“For optimum health, scientists say, eat a rainbow of colors. Your plate should look like a box of Crayolas.”
Janice M. Horowitz, Time Magazine~
We are all familiar with the vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables. Less familiar is another important component called phytochemicals (or phyto-nutrients). Phyto (pronounced ‘fight-o’) is a Greek word meaning ‘plant.’
There are over 900 of these natural compounds, which are related to plant pigments and give the plants their bright, beautiful rainbow colors.
Yellow/orange fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of vitamin C as well as carotenoids and bioflavonoids -two types of phytochemicals that scientist say may have great potential to promote good health.
The red-yellow pigment beta-carotene turns foods like sweet potatoes, apricots, carrots and butternut squash bright orange. Beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A – necessary for good vision, a healthy heart, a strong immune system and healthy skin.
Scientists say that some of these powerful phytochemicals offer chemical protection to plants. They are Mother Nature’s way of protecting them from pests, bacteria and viruses.
Fortunately, phytochemicals play a similar role in the human body. Scientists report that they work hand-in-hand with nutrients to help stimulate cell regeneration and growth and reduce the risk of disease. This is a relatively new area of discovery in health and nutrition, with much work to be done. Cautious research is being conducted to determine whether these plant chemicals are powerful enough to be taken in pill form.
Let color help guide you in planning your meals. To get the full nutritive benefits from the phytochemicals in plants, it is important to eat a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables each day.
Here are some of the more familiar fruits and vegetables that contain phytochemicals:Apricots
Yellow watermelonButternut squash
Corn (on the cob)
Yellow bell peppers
Yellow crookneck squash
Yellow skin potatoes
To get enough phytochemicals in your diet, eat 5 to 9 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables each day.
Here are a few quick tricks for getting beta-carotene into your diet.Apricots – Halve apricots; brush with honey and grill or broil. Apricots can be poached 6 to 8 minutes in fruit juice with a cinnamon stick. Make a delicious breakfast parfait by layering vanilla yogurt, fresh or canned apricot slices and granola in parfait dishes. Dust the tops with ground cinnamon.
Plantains – They look like bananas but must be cooked before eating. Higher in potassium than their cousin, the banana. Ripe black plantains taste sweeter than greenish ones. Both are popular in Latino communities and prepared in different ways. Peel then remove fibrous strings running the length of the vegetable. Cut in 1 or 2-inch pieces; steam 10 about minutes. Don’t overcook or they will taste bitter. Plantains can be served with a drizzle of olive oil and garlic or mashed and seasoned. Thin slices of tender simmered plantain can be sauteed in a small amount of olive oil until golden on both sides. Delicious with herbs and minced garlic.
Papayas – Very rich in antioxidants. May prevent stomach ulcers. Cut in half lengthwise then scoop out and discard seeds. Cut off peel, then cut fruit in 1/2 inch pieces. Toss with fresh lemon or lime juice, one-half teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of allspice. Chill before serving. Add chunks of mango and orange wedges for a delicious blend.
Sweet Potatoes -A powerhouse of antioxidants. The easiest way to prepare them is to scrub the skins then pat dry. Rub peels with a little vegetable oil. Pierce with a fork. Place in a heavy baking dish lined with foil. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender. Baking brings out the natural sweetness of sweet potatoes. Split open and serve like a baked potato with a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey or a dash of cinnamon-sugar. A spoonful or orange marmalade or apricot preserves makes a nice topping as well.
Read Allison Askins’ article in the State Newspaper today for more ideas on ‘adding color to your plate.”