Selecting food? Let color be your guide

March 21, 2011|Melissa Tewes and Joe Fleischman | Your Health Matters
  • Chef Joe Fleischman's grilled vegetable and goat cheese flatbread includes vibrant colors  red and yellow peppers, yellow squash and basil to make a healthful meal
By Joe Crocetta/Staff photographer

March is National Nutrition Month, so the American Dietetic Association has chosen the theme of "Eat Right with Color" to help people choose more nutritious foods.

An easy way to pile more color onto your plate is by incorporating brightly colored vegetables.

Not only will a colorful meal be more appealing to the eye, but it will also increase nutrients essential to good health while providing minimal additional calories and fat.  

Vegetables are a good source of dietary fiber, which is beneficial to the body in many ways.

Dietary fiber provides bulk to the diet, leaving the feeling of fullness, while providing few calories or fat.

Dietary fiber plays a role in digestive health and might help protect our bodies from certain types of cancer and heart disease.

Why the emphasis on bright colors? Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are excellent sources or phytonutrients (compounds that are found in plants that have many health-promoting benefits including the potential to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and heart disease).  

Bright red vegetables such as tomatoes, beets, and red peppers provide nutrients that might help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, especially of the prostate.

Adding white vegetables such as cauliflower, mushrooms, and onions provides nutrients, which might help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.  

Orange and yellow vegetables such as butternut squash, carrots and yellow peppers provide nutrients that play a role in maintenance of healthy eyesight, and might help reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and might improve immune function.  

Green vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus and brussels sprouts also provide nutrients, which play a role in keeping your eyes healthy.

Certain green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are a good source of folate, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of birth defects.  

Blue and purple vegetables such as eggplant provide powerful antioxidants, which help protect various cells in our bodies from damage and might help reduce the risk of certain types of cancers and heart disease.

By choosing the correct cooking process, we can help preserve these valuable nutrients.

To preserve dietary fiber, avoid overcooking and limit to peeling your vegetables.  

Steam vegetables in a small amount of water to help preserve other nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Have you ever noticed when you boil vegetables, the water often turns colors? Prolonged exposure to water and heat breaks down key nutrients, which will be present in the water that most people drain off, before serving.  

So what counts as a serving? One serving of vegetables is equal to 1 cup if it is raw and 1/2 cup if it is cooked.  

So how many servings of vegetables do we need?  People require different amounts depending on their age and activity level.  

Regardless of how much we need, most of us need to increase the amount we eat.

Aim to fill half of your plate with a variety of brightly colored vegetables for maximum nutrient consumption.

Try these tips to easily incorporate more of these nutrient-rich vegetables in to your daily diet:

 Keep clean veggies in the refrigerator, in the line of sight. Once placed in the produce drawers below, they are often overlooked.

 Try replacing high-fat, high-calorie dips with chunky salsa.

 Experiment with planting a fresh vegetable garden in the summer months,

 Add fresh or frozen veggies to casseroles, soups, stews or any pasta dish.

 Use pasta sauce as a sandwich spread to add flavor without adding the fat.

 When ordering pizza, ask for vegetables for toppings rather than high fat meats. Also ask for double sauce. With all of that flavor, you can further reduce the fat and calories by cutting the cheese in half.

 Add lettuce, onions, peppers and tomatoes to sandwiches.

 Avoid adding cream or cheese sauces; season vegetables with vinegars and fresh herbs and spices.

— Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.

Grilled vegetable and goat cheese flatbread

1 whole yellow bell pepper, quartered, seeds removed
1 whole red bell pepper, quartered, seeds removed
1/2  yellow squash, sliced length wise
1/2 zucchini, sliced length wise
3 whole white mushrooms
2 ounces of extra virgin olive oil
2  8-inch round flat bread
1 ounces of mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 ounces, goat cheese (chevre)
1 medium tomato, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
Salt/pepper to taste

Heat gas or charcoal grill to medium heat. In a large mixing bowl, place peppers, mushrooms, squash and zucchini along with 1 ounce of olive oil, Mix well.

Place vegetables from mixing bowl on pre-heated grill and cook until just soft, about 4 minutes.

Remove vegetables from grill and cool.

Slice grilled vegetables to 1/8-inch thickness and reserve. Place flat bread on flat work surface and top with mozzarella cheese and grilled vegetables.

Stud goat cheese around flatbread and place into 400-degree oven until the cheese melts and flat bread is crispy, depending on taste.

Slice and serve.

Makes 2 flat breads: serves 2 as entree or 4 as appetizer.  

Cook's note: Any precooked vegetables can be used.

Recipe by Joe Fleischman, executive chef at Meritus Medical Center. He has 20 years of experience as a professional chef, culinary instructor and speaker.

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