Being a new year, there are many of us who have resolved to improve their lifestyle and to get healthier; as a dietician, one of the frequently asked questions with regard to this process is how to start and sustain these changes. While some choose to go the dieting route with certain food groups eliminated from their menus and portions reduced to a bare minimum, others in place of or in addition to the dietary adjustments have gotten gym subscriptions.

Regardless of the course of direction you decide to follow towards your health goals, here’s an everyday tip that will help everyone kick start their journey towards a healthier lifestyle this year.

The ‘Eat a rainbow’ campaign is a simple way of reminding you that a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet will get you the vitamins and minerals you need. Fun fact for you in addition to that is each colour carries its own set of unique disease fighting chemicals called phytochemicals that give the fruits and vegetables their vibrant colour and of course some of their healthy properties.

Eating the rainbow is simple and it is actually the first and most important step to take when wanting to get healthy.‘How much?’ is always the question I get asked. Honestly? 9-12 portions of fruit and vegetables per day is what I encourage. And of those, one or two portions of each colour per day is a good goal to strive for! If you aim to have one fruit and three vegetables per meal, this is easily achievable.

The wonderful colours in vegetables and fruits represent over 25,000 different phytonutrients which, when consumed, stimulate enzymes that help the body eliminate toxins, boost the immune system, promote healthy oestrogen metabolism, support cardiovascular health and kill off cancer cells. Can you see why a bland diet just will not do?

What is even cooler is that each different colour – green, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue and white – represents different families of healing chemicals.

a) Red

Red foods are real health heroes when it comes to a balanced diet. Packed with lycopene they can protect our skin as well as reduce risks of cancer.These fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals, which help turn carbohydrates, fats and proteins into usable energy for the body. These foods also contain antioxidants, which protect DNA from oxidative damage and, therefore, prevent disease.

(Raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, red cherries, red grapes, pomegranates, red apples, red plums, rhubarb, pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava, tomatoes, red peppers, radishes, radicchio and red onions).

Tips: Our bodies are able to absorb more lycopene when it is in the form of food that have been cooked or processed. This makes tomatoes an important provider of lycopene – ketchup, puree, canned tomatoes and ready-made sauces all contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes, and the body is better able to use it.

b) Orange

The abundance of antioxidants, vitamins and phytonutrients in orange foods are important for a strong immune system, healthy skin – rebuilding collagen and protecting from sun damage – and for good eye and heart health; they may also decrease your risk of cancer – by neutralizing free radicals.

(Pumpkins, papaya, carrots, orange lentils, sweet potatoes, tangerines)

Tips: Carrot not Tablet; too much vitamin A can be toxic, so get your fix from foods instead of vitamin tablets. Get some vibrant orange onto your plate and into your belly.

c) Yellow

Sunny coloured foods have an abundance of vitamin C along with anti oxidants which are linked with cancer prevention, healthy skin, wound healing, digestion, healthier and stronger bones and teeth, and reducing the risk of inflammatory conditions.

(Sweet corn, grapefruit, yellow capsicum, pineapple, lemon, mango, yellow lentils, mango)
Tip: Do not be afraid of a little oil! Some phytonutrients are best absorbed by the body with some fats, so be sure to cook or dress your veggies with a little oil, or add some cheese. Sunny your plate with some yellow.

d) Green

Greens are considered to be super foods as they are full of fiber, are very rich in phytonutrients, and some of the most essential nutrients – calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B, C and K. They are known to help with age- related eye disease, protecting against cancers and blood vessel damage, and in regulating blood sugar.

(Avocado, broccoli, kiwi, spinach, okra, peas, cabbage, kale, grapes, spring onion, green herbs – thyme, sage, rosemary, mint)

Tip: Adding these to your favorite dishes help to bulk up the meal keeping you sated while keeping the calories under control. Let us go green.

e) Blue/ Purple/ Violet

Traditionally, blue and purple represent trust and royalty, but in foods these hues represent protection against cell damage and reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease and cancers. They help in the reduction of blood pressure and to increase physical performance. They are also good for your liver and help prevent UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections).

(Purple cabbage, grapes, figs, blackberries, eggplant, purple onion, arrow roots, passion fruit)
Tip: Go to the Dark Side….the Darker the Better. Darker shades signify higher concentrations of phytochemicals and antioxidants.

f) White/ Tan/ Brown

White, tan and brown fruits and vegetables are rich in phytonutrients that promote heart and muscle health while maintaining healthy blood vessels, improves metabolism and promotes a healthy gut, reduces the risk of arthritis, strengthens bone tissue, and is associated with fighting cancer. Most of these foods are packed with magnesium and potassium.

(Bananas, pulses and lentils, pears, mushrooms, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, white onion, garlic, white potatoes, white corn, wheat, sorghum)

Tip: Love your garlic breath! Add to your cooking just before you serve for maximum benefit. The less refined the grains the more the nutrient density and value.

So next time you are shopping, get out of your shopping comfort zone, no more bland! Phytonutrients are not just limited to fruits and vegetables; you can get them from legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and teas. So pick a different variety, a new vegetable you have not tried before, buy new herbs and a selection of nuts and seeds and keep those colourful phytonutrients flowing.

Think shop and cook with colour in mind, pack as much colour as you can into your fridges and onto your plates and watch the magic happen.

Written by:  Ababach Tamiru,
Nutritionist/Dietician,
C & P Health Center.

Eat A Rainbow

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