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Eat a rainbow of color everyday

Alvina Begay, R.D.

March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Eat Right with Color.” In other words, everyone is encouraged choose and add colorful foods into their diets – now and in the future. With spring on the way and summer and fall soon approaching there is a vast array of colorful fruits and vegetables just waiting to entice people. Consuming a “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables each day is the easiest way to add healthy fruits and vegetables to a diet.

The various colors of all the fruits and vegetables is nature's way of getting us to eat them so we will get the nutrients they provide. The different colors in fruits and vegetables are an indication of key nutrients that make our immune system stronger. Each color (an indicator of nutrients) in fruits and vegetables builds the immune system in its own way.

The more a rainbow of colors in a daily diet, the healthier a person will be. This is because of the all the phytochemicals that are present in colorful fruits and vegetables. Phytochemicals are chemical compounds, such as beta-carotene, that occur naturally in plants. The term is generally used to refer to those chemicals that may affect health.

Below is a list of various food colors and a short description of how they benefit your health:

· Greens (spinach, collards, kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower): Greens have lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants that help the circulatory system. These antioxidants protect against clogging of the arteries and can protect aging eyes from developing cataracts and macular degeneration.

· Yellows/Oranges (sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes and apricots): Most yellow fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene, carotenoids, vitamin C and minerals. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that helps make the immune system strong. Orange fruits and vegetables also have vitamin C and folate to improve circulation, prevent inflammation, prevent cancer by repairing DNA and reduce the risk of heart disease.

· Reds (tomatoes, watermelon, papaya and pink grapefruit): Most red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps fight heart disease and some types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer. It also reduces the effects of sun damage on the skin.

· Blue/Purples (blueberries, purple grapes, red cabbage, beets and plums): Blue and purple fruits and vegetables have antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins protect against heart disease by improving circulation and preventing blood clots.

· Whites (garlic, onions, pears and green grapes): White fruits and vegetables have allicin, which helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Allicin also can act as a poor man’s antibiotic.

Strive to include the colors in a rainbow in your diet each day to make sure you're getting in all the fruits and vegetables needed for good health. Make it a daily goal to eat four to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Alvina Begay, R.D., is a registered dietitian at Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit