Archive for Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Column: Rainbow on your plate

August 7, 2012

“Put a rainbow on your plate.” That has been the message at many of my summer programs at libraries, child care centers and other organizations. Sure, rainbows are pretty, but on our plate? What I’m referring to is the color found in fruits and vegetables!

Why does color matter? The color molecules that form the more than 2,000 pigments in plant foods not only look tasty, but also contain strong, health-promoting substances called antioxidants. These antioxidants neutralize the free radicals formed when cells burn oxygen for energy. Free radicals can damage or destroy healthy cells. In general, the deeper the color of a fruit or vegetable, the more powerful the antioxidant action of that food. Other phytochemicals (“phyto,” pronounced fight-o, means plant) in addition to antioxidants also help protect against the damaging effects of toxic substances. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables allows their different phytonutrients to work together to help fight illnesses.

Fruits and vegetables provide a wide spectrum of healthful qualities, including vitamins and minerals. They are low in calories and sodium, high in water content and contain no cholesterol. Many are good sources of dietary fiber, which helps satisfy hunger and enhances bowel health. Most contain very little fat, and fruit has natural sweetness.

Eating different colors of fruits and vegetables each day offers a satisfying variety of tastes and textures while increasing protection against disease. A diet rich in natural plant pigments protects against heart disease and cancer, slows the aging process, and strengthens mental capacity and the immune system. It also helps decrease the risk of high blood pressure, lung or pulmonary disease such as asthma, stroke, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, constipation, urinary tract infections, diverticulosis, diabetes, obesity and wrinkling of the skin.

It is important to remember to wash all fruits and vegetables, even those that will be peeled, prior to eating. There is no need to use soaps or bleach solutions, as those products are not intended for consumption. There are produce wash products in the marketplace, however vinegar or lemon juice will be just as effective as an anti-microbial agent.

To include the most phytochemicals in our diet, the Produce for Better Health (PBH) Foundation encourages us to choose fruits and vegetables from the following color groups: Red; Orange/Yellow; Green; Blue/Violet/Black; White/Tan/Brown. A very kid friendly method to ‘eat your colors’ is to pick a fruit from each color group and make rainbow fruit kabobs. For more, including a recipe for fruit salad with citrus sauce, go to

— For more from K State Research and Extension office for Leavenworth County, call 913-364-5700 or visit the office at 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing. More information also can be found at


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