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Growing up, our parents always encouraged us to eat our vegetables and fruits. For generations, we raised our children to believe that veggies and fruits are super foods that make us strong (even popular cartoon, Popeye enforces that belief!). Knowing that, we are faced by one ultimate question –which vegetable/fruit will provide us the right nutrients? Are all vegetables and fruits the same? Do they contain the same essential nutrients needed for our body to grow healthily?
We did some digging and found one of the easiest ways nutritionists around the world use as a guideline to ensure we get a balanced fruit and vegetable diet: the Fruit and Vegetable Rainbow.
WHAT IS IT?
Fruit and vegetables fall into five different colour categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green and white/brown. Each colour carries its own set of unique disease fighting chemicals called phytochemicals. It is these phytochemicals that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colour and of course some of their healthy properties.
Red fruits and vegetables are coloured by a natural plant pigment called lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant. They also have Anthocyanin present (though lower than that of purple/blue fruits and vegetables).
• Lycopene may help reduce risk of heart attacks and certain types of cancer, most notably prostate cancer.
• Anthocyanin is thought to improve heart health and the overall function of the body.
• Red fruits and vegetables also contain certain flavonoids, which may reduce inflammation and have antioxidant properties.
• Many red fruits are high in vitamin C and folate.
Example: Tomato, Red Apples, Red Capsicum, Strawberries, Rhubarb, Cherries, Watermelon
PURPLE / BLUE
The plant pigment anthocyanin is what gives blue/purple fruits and vegetables their distinctive colour. Anthocyanin acts as a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from damage. The darker the blue/purple hue, the higher the concentration of Anthocyanins. They are also rich in flavonoids (also a type of phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables).
• Anthocyanins support healthy blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease (by preventing unnatural clot formations), improve memory function (overall healthy aging) and lower risk of cancer.
• Flavonoids are able to make our blood vessels healthier, reverse the short-term memory loss associated with aging, improve motor skills, and help prevent bacteria from sticking to cells (such as in the lining of the urinary tract.)
Example: Beetroot, Red Cabbage, Eggplant, Blackberries, Blueberries, Purple Grapes
ORANGE / YELLOW
Carotenoids give this group their vibrant colour. Beta-cryptoxanthin, beta-carotene, and alpha-carotene are all orange-friendly carotenoids, which can be converted in the body to vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes.
• Vitamin A is integral for vision and immune function, as well as skin and bone health.
• Help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer (especially in the lungs, esophagus, and stomach), and can improve immune system function.
• Excellent source of vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids and folate (a B vitamin that helps reduce the risk of birth defects).
Example: Carrots, Lemons, Sweet Potato, Rock Melon, Pumpkin, Mangoes, Oranges, Pineapples
Green vegetables contain a range of phytochemicals including carotenoids, indoles and saponins, all of which have anti-cancer properties. Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are also excellent sources of folate.
• Lutein works with zeaxanthin (another natural chemical found in corn, red peppers, oranges and grapes) to help keep eyes healthy (reducing the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.)
• The “indoles” (naturally occurring chemicals) in broccoli, kale, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables may help protect against some types of cancer.
• Isothiocyanates, which stimulate enzymes in the liver that assist the body in removing potentially carcinogenic compounds.
• Spinach and broccoli are excellent sources of folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce risk of birth defects, along with being an excellent source of vitamin K (essential in blood clot formation), potassium, some carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids
Example: Spinach, Asparagus, Avocados, Broccoli, Peas, Green Apples, Kiwi, Celery
BROWN / WHITE
White fruits and vegetables derive their colour from the phytochemicals called “anthoxanthins”. White fruits and vegetables contain a range of health-promoting phytochemicals such as allicin (found in garlic) which is known for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Some members of the white group are also a good source of potassium.
• Many white fruits and vegetables also contain the chemical allicin, which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as reduce the risk of stomach cancer and heart disease.
• Some members of the white group are also a good source of potassium, which is important for the healthy functioning of our heart, kidneys and other vital organs.
Example: Cauliflower, Mushrooms, Garlic, Bananas, Potatoes, Dates, Onions, Ginger, Turnip
The Australian dietary guidelines recommend that adults eat at least five kinds of vegetable and 2 kinds of fruit every day. Of that recommendation, try to include all the colours of vegetable and fruits on your plate. Keep in mind that children have a smaller stomach capacity and higher energy need than adults. They cannot eat the same serving sizes as adults.