Nutritionists from the University of Maryland Medical Center regularly contribute a guest post. The latest post is from Catherine Schroeder, dietetic intern.
Spring showers inspire the growth of a colorful array of fruits and vegetables to decorate your dishes, tempt your taste buds and nourish yourself naturally.
Vibrantly colored produce adds visual appeal to any dish without the use of synthetic dyes or additives. More importantly, these brightly colored foods pack a powerful nutrition punch. Fruits and vegetables have a high nutrient density, meaning they provide high amounts of nutrients for a low amount of calories. Choosing more foods with higher nutrient density is linked with healthy body weight, greater energy levels and lower risk of chronic disease. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org) recommends most adults should "strive for five" servings of fruits and vegetables daily, as a general goal to improve diet and nutrition. This comes to about two cups daily of fruits and vegetables. For more information on getting enough produce, see http://www.choosemyplate.gov or http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.
Experiment with different color combinations to paint a daily menu full of vitamins and minerals: The brighter the better. Visit the supermarket or a farmers' market to see what's in season. Or consider signing up for Community Supported Agriculture programs that link you to a local farm where you reap the fresh bounty all season: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ has more information.
Red/pink: Many red foods contain lycopene, the antioxidant that may help reduce risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Examples include tomatoes, ruby red grapefruit, apples, strawberries, apricots, guava, papaya, raspberries, blood oranges, red bell peppers, guava, watermelon, cranberries, pomegranate, radishes and red onions.
Orange/yellow: Colored from beta carotene, these foods may improve vision, support immune function, help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. These foods are rich in vitamin C, thiamine, magnesium and potassium. Examples include oranges, tangerines, sweet potato, butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, peaches, nectarines, pumpkin, mango, banana, lemons, yellow raspberries, yellow bell peppers, spaghetti squash, corn and pineapples.
Green: Loaded with antioxidants to reduce free radical damage within the body and decrease disease risk, fiber to support digestion and micronutrients to support metabolism, green produce offers a powerhouse of nutrition. Examples include Swiss chard, lettuces, turnips, collard and mustard greens, peppers, avocados, broccoli, kale, kiwi, spinach, peas, celery, apples, grapes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, fresh herbs and cucumbers.
Blue/indigo/violet: With colors attributed to flavonoids, these foods promote cardiovascular health and may stimulate neurological function: a true brain food. Examples include blueberries, blue corn, grapes, beans, eggplant, plums, blackberries, purple cabbage and beets. Tea and cocoa are also sources. For more on antioxidants in foods, visit http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/antioxidants.html
Color your plate today. More does matter. There is even a free phone app to help you track your intake: munch5aday.com. For more tips and ideas, see http://www.foodnetwork.com/spring-produce-guide/package/index.html.
Play with your food: Don't love raw vegetables? Experiment with different sauces and dips to add flavor to your snack. Plunge carrots in hummus, dunk bell peppers in salsa or top celery with low-fat cream cheese. Speckle apple slices with a dollop of peanut butter and raisins, top a bowl of berries with Greek yogurt or drizzle a banana with melted dark chocolate chips and crushed walnuts. For more recipes: http://www.bonappetit.com/ideas/vegetable-recipes/search
Plan your produce: Don't leave home without fruit and veggie snacks. The best way to avoid the vending machine is to keep convenient produce snacks on hand and easily accessible when the mid-afternoon munchies hit. Chop up raw veggies ahead of time and pre-pack into baggies.
Make it fun: Adding more produce can be a challenge, but try making a game out of it. Start by trying to include two different colors in each meal. When you've mastered that, try to include three different colors in every meal (and so on). Engage the whole family in this initiative and aim to eat the rainbow every day.
Every bite counts. Simple and small changes can make a dramatic impact on your health. Place a few leaves of lettuce or arugula on a sandwich, add roasted vegetables to pasta, top pizza with broccoli and cauliflower, or mash avocado instead of mayo on a bun. Berries are a great addition to a bowl of cereal, atop yogurt, or in a muffin recipe. Mix together green and red grapes for color or carve watermelons to use as a bowl for fruit salad.
The more colorful produce you can include in your diet, the more vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber you will receive. This spring, instead of trying to cut out and limit the "bad" foods, focus on the many nutrients you can add with vibrant fruits and vegetables.