Fruits & Veggies: Color Counts

Looking for natural protection from stress, inflammation and joint pain? Try eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, says Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care. The antioxidants and nutrients in fruits and vegetables can help maintain your vision, protect your heart and reduce your risk of developing cancer, according to medical experts.

“I like to call fruits and vegetables the WD-40 for your cells,” Ms. Clark-Reyes says, referring to the popular household product that protects doorframes and equipment from rust, corrosion and other ravages caused by age and time. “Just like WD-40 keeps equipment from getting rusty, the anti-oxidants and nutrients in fruits and vegetables protect the cells in your body from stress.”

From cancer to heart disease, fruits and vegetables can deliver healthy doses of preventive medicine through different nutrients found in them, especially if your plate is filled with a variety of colors.

“Phytonutrients or phytochemicals are plant compounds like carotenoids, lycopene, resveratrol, and phytosterols that are thought to have health-protecting qualities. They are found in plant products such as fruits, vegetables, and teas,” according to a report from the American Cancer Society.

Inflammation and Stress

Inflammation is linked to a variety of health conditions, including auto-immune disorders, joint pain and heart disease, Ms. Clark-Reyes says. The anti-oxidants in fruits and vegetables provide you with protection from inflammation.

To get the most nutritional benefits from fruits and vegetables, fill your plate with color.

Here’s a quick color guide with a sampling of the phytochemicals (nutrients) linked to each group:

  • Orange/Yellow. Nutrients: Alfa- and beta-carotene. Found in: Carrots, mangoes, pumpkin. Potential benefits: Neutralizes free radicals, which are associated with cell damage.
  • Green. Nutrient: Lutein. Found in: Spinach, avocado, collard and turnip greens. Potential benefits: Helps maintain healthy vision.
  • Red.  Nutrient: LycopeneFound in: Tomatoes, tomato products, pink grapefruit and watermelon. Potential benefits include: Reduction of prostrate cancer risks.
  • Red/Purple. Nutrients: Anthocyanins, Polyphenols. Found in: Berries, grapes, red wine, plums. Potential benefits: Neutralize free radicals, can cut cancer risk. Polyphenols (in citrus fruits and vegetables) can also reduce the risk of heart, eye and degenerative diseases.
  • White/Green. Nutrients: Allyl sulfides. Found in: Leeks, onion, garlic, chives, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts. Potential benefits: Boost immune system and lower LDL cholesterol levels.

When it comes to green vegetables, darker colors deliver more nutrients, Ms. Clark-Reyes says. So if you have a choice between an iceberg and romaine lettuce, select the darker romaine leaves, she says. Ms. Clark-Reyes recommends at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and seven-to-nine servings if you are battling cancer or undergoing chemotherapy treatments. And remember to fill your plate with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables.

“If your plate is all white or brown, that’s a problem,” she says.

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