Eat your greens and other colorful foods

March 08, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans - published every 5 years by the U.S. departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services - encourage us to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

At first, this sounds like an impossible goal. But one serving is only about one-half of a cup. Examples of a single serving of fruit include 6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice, 1/4 cup of dried fruit, one medium-sized piece of fruit, 1/2 cup of sliced fruit, a small banana or 16 seedless grapes.

One serving of vegetables is equivalent to 1 cup of raw leafy greens, 6 baby carrots, 1/2 cup chopped raw or cooked broccoli or cauliflower, a small tomato, a small pepper or a small ear of corn.

You can find more examples of serving sizes at

A rainbow of healthful eating

Fruits and vegetables provide the vitamins, minerals and fiber we need to keep us healthy. They also provide natural substances called phytochemicals which give fruits and vegetables their attractive colors and, more importantly, aid in the prevention of disease.


Because of these disease-fighting properties, it is important that we eat fruits and vegetables from each of the following different color groups as often as possible:

  • Red: The phytochemicals in red fruits and vegetables include lycopene and anthocyanins, which help to maintain urinary tract health and memory function. They also help to reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.

    The red group includes tomatoes, red peppers, kidney beans, red apples, cherries, cranberries, watermelons, beets, rhubarb and strawberries.

  • Orange/yellow: The phytochemicals in this group include carotenoids and bioflavonoids. They also contain vitamin C, which is known for its antioxidant properties.

    Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables help to maintain vision and your immune system. In addition, they help to prevent heart disease and some cancer.

    The orange/yellow group includes sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, carrots, papayas, peaches, oranges, nectarines, lemons, pumpkins, pineapples and sweet corn.

  • Green: Fruits and vegetables with a rich, green color contain phytochemicals called lutein and indoles. These help to maintain vision, build strong bones and teeth, and lower the risk of some cancers.

    Spinach, green apples, asparagus, green beans, peas, kiwi, broccoli, green grapes, green peppers, cabbage, zucchini, limes, and Brussels sprouts are examples of green group fruits and vegetables.

  • Blue/purple: This group has phytochemicals called anthocyanins and phenolics that help to decrease the risk of some types of cancer and aid in memory health, urinary tract health and healthy aging.

    This group includes blueberries, grapes, plums, raisins, eggplant, blackberries, dried plums and purple cabbage.

  • White: White fruits and vegetables contain a type of phytochemical named allicin. These foods aid in maintaining a healthy heart and healthy cholesterol levels and also in reducing the risk of some cancers.

    Cauliflower, onions, garlic, bananas, pears, white peaches, mushrooms, potatoes, turnips and parsnips are all included in this group.

Part of everyday diet

By including a mix of colors in a healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, we can obtain substantial health benefits. There are many ways that we can begin to include more of these colorful fruits and vegetables in our diets everyday.

  • Serve a fruit or vegetable with every meal.

  • Snack on fruits and vegetables between meals.

  • Keep prewashed, sliced vegetables and fruits within easy reach in the refrigerator.

  • Add fruits like mandarin oranges, apples, or grapes to your vegetable or meat salads.

  • Top yogurt with fruit for a satisfying snack.

  • Add raisins or frozen blueberries to your oatmeal or favorite cereal.

Try one of the following quick and easy recipes.

- Elizabeth Hutzell, dietetic intern with the University of Delaware, contributed to the content of this article.

Spinach Salad

10-oz. package fresh baby spinach

11-oz. can mandarin orange segments, drained, or apricot halves, drained and sliced

1 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Combine ingredients in large bowl. Serve with a vinaigrette dressing, if desired.

Tropical Fruit Parfait

20-oz. can tropical fruit salad, drained

8-oz. container fat-free lemon or plain yogurt

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries

1/2 cup low-fat granola

In bowl, combine the tropical fruit salad with the yogurt. In juice glasses, alternately layer the fruit/yogurt mixture, blueberries and granola. Repeat layers one more time. Makes 4 servings. (Get creative with this recipe - use different kinds of fruit, add more yogurt, or try a different yogurt flavor.)

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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