By: Katelyn Jordan ’16, University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator
…and no, I don’t mean Skittles! I’m talking about fruits and vegetables!
There are compounds found in plant foods called phytochemicals—these work hand-in-hand with vitamins and minerals to keep you properly nourished. Most of these compounds have distinct pigments, making them easy to distinguish visually in order to get a hint of what the benefits are.
Red: Tomatoes, Strawberries, Cherries, Red Peppers, Watermelon
Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, causes the red pigment found in plant foods. Antioxidants prevent the production of “free radicals,” which can harm your body’s cells by stealing electrons to neutralize themselves. This can cause oxidative damage to DNA, proteins, and other macromolecules, which can lead to a wide range of diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Orange/Yellow: Carrots, Cantaloupe, Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, Mango
Beta-carotene, which causes orange pigmentation in foods, is the most common carotenoid. It can be converted to Vitamin A by your body- a vitamin necessary for eye health, immune function, as well as skin and bone health.
Green: Broccoli, Asparagus, Collards, Grapes, Green Beans
Isothiocyanates color your food (as well as grass and tree leaves) green. The phytochemical has been associated with a reduced risk of various cancers. Some green fruits and vegetables also contain a second phytochemical called lutein, which promotes healthy eyes and protects against age-related macular degeneration.
Blue/Purple: Blueberries, Eggplant, Beets, Plums, Figs
Anthocyanin causes plants to be pigmented somewhere between blue and purple. This phytochemical is said to be beneficial for your heart and blood pressure. Darker hues indicate a higher concentration of anthocyanin, and a nice rich color can tell you when the produce is ripe.
White: Ginger, Onion, Mushrooms, Yuca
Flavonoids— the largest class of phytochemicals- are not actually white, but colorless. They are powerful antioxidants that help prevent free radicals, which can be harmful to cells and tissues, from forming. These colorless compounds are also found in tea, red wine, and dark chocolate.
The MyPlate guidelines recommend that about half of the food you eat are fruits or vegetables. Luckily, there are lots of colorful tips and tricks:
- Find many of these fruits and vegetables at The Farmers Market at Maryland, the dining halls, and even some convenience stores.
- Use your imagination (and the internet!) for endless colorful recipes to add to your meals.
- Try throwing some veggies (cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, sliced peppers, etc.) into a baggie to munch on between classes. Apples, bananas, and oranges contain their own “packaging” and don’t require any work at all.
If you’d like more ideas and guidance in improving your overall diet, take advantage of the Free Nutrition Coaching Service at the University Health Center. To reserve your session, call 301-314-5664 or email UHC-Nutrition@umd.edu.