By Carolina Sierra, Nutrition Services Coordinator
Learn how with your Nutritionists at Mary’s Center!
In observance of National Nutrition Month in March, those of us who provide nutrition counseling and education at Mary’s Center, including our dietitians and nutrition support staff throughout different programs, gathered to discuss fun facts and useful information about the importance of eating the rainbow…but what does that really mean?
Eating the rainbow means that by adding as much color as you can to your plate, you are increasing the amounts of different phytonutrients. Phytonutrient comes from Greek origin and simply means “plant nutrients.” They support anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity in your body; in other words, they help you prevent and fight diseases.
The colorful pigments of vegetables and fruits correspond to specific phytonutrients, each providing a different health benefit:
Red has Lycopene which is anti-inflammatory
Orange has Beta-carotene which helps reproductive health
Yellow has Lutein-Zeaxanthin which helps digestive health
Green has Folates which helps cardiovascular health
Purple has Flavonoids which helps cognition
Here are helpful ideas to make your plate as bright as a rainbow!
- Challenge yourself to consume specific colors each day: Try adding 2 colors per day on your plate (e.g., orange and green). You can have a fruit salad with kiwi and oranges or a vegetarian lasagna with eggplant and roasted peppers. Tip: switch colors every day and aim to eat a rainbow weekly, or even better, aim to do it daily!
- Add a vegetable or fruit to foods you love to gain nutrients: Add peas to mac and cheese, different veggies to pizza, or fruits to your cereal!
- Switch out salty snacks for vegetables: Pair vegetables such as carrots, celery, zucchini, cucumbers, bell peppers, cauliflower, and broccoli with your favorite low-fat dressing, Greek yogurt, or hummus – yummy!
- Blend the colors in a smoothie: Blending vegetables and fruits in smoothies is a very simple way to add nutrients to our diets. You can try adding 1-2 fruits and 1-2 vegetables. For example, try blending mixed berries with a handful or two of spinach, low-fat milk, yogurt, or an unsweetened, non-dairy alternative with water and ice. For a sweeter option, add a banana, 2-3 pitted dates, stevia, or 1 tsp of honey per cup.
Also, challenge yourself to try something different from time to time, and if you are adventurous, add as much color as you want. If you are not a big fan of vegetables and fruits, it can feel easier by adding those that you are familiar with to foods you already love. Keep in mind that eating should be a joyful experience, and remember, the more variety of colors on your plate, the more nutrients you will add to your bucket of health!