Eat your vegetables!
It's one of those phrases we've all heard countless times since childhood. And for good reason: A diet rich in fruits and veggies can dramatically reduce your risk of developing heart disease — as well as stroke, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer.
Yet only 1 in 10 Americans eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables every day — in part, because many just can't stomach the idea of choking down bowls and bowls of boring-but-good-for-you foods. But certified nutritionist Frances Largeman-Rothhas come up with a new strategy to get more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet that takes out the boredom and adds a splash of color.
In her new book, "Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Your and Your Family," she details how to use color as a guide to eating heart-healthy foods that actually taste good, without having to resort to complicated calculations of carbs, calories, or food groups.
"My concept is just add more color at every meal and every snack — and we’re talking about the entire spectrum of color," Largeman-Roth tells Newsmax Health. "From my perspective it's a really fun way to eat. It's family friendly, and oh by the way it has a lot of health benefits, too."
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Largeman-Roth credits her daughter, Willa, with helping to inspire her diet strategy. As a toddler, Willa tended to eat a lot of colorless "very beige" foods — chicken, plain pasta, cheese. So to get her to vary her diet, Largeman-Roth made it a game to add more colorful foods to her plate. She describes it as an "aha" moment that led to the "Eating in Color" diet and book.
"I thought , OK … if it tap into the color part of it and stop talking about 'You really should eat your broccoli honey because it's so good for you,' then maybe that would work," she recalls. "And it has worked."
But Largeman-Roth's dietary recommendations aren't for kids only. What follows is a guide to "Eating in Color" that details the benefits provided by each color family of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Reds: Fruits and vegetables in this color family contain — tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, radishes, beets, pomegranates, radicchio, rhubarb, cherries, cranberries, red apples, and red onions — contain high levels of the antioxidant vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. These are important nutrients that boost heart health, lower "bad" cholesterol, maintain normal blood pressure, and fight damage caused by free radicals throughout the body. "Red is perfect for February because it's National Heart Month and the red family is very heart healthy," Largeman-Roth says.
Oranges and yellows: The orange family members — including apricots, squash, pumpkins, orange peppers, sweet potatoes, mangos, peaches, cantaloupe, carrots, and (of course) oranges — are all rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body and is "essential to a healthy immune system and a healthy reproductive system," she notes. Antioxidant-rich yellow fruits and veggies — yellow beets, star fruit, yellow figs, lemons, and bell peppers — are also good for the heart and have been found to help fight other chronic diseases including cancer.
Blues, indigos, and violets: Having the blues isn't always a bad thing, Largeman-Roth quips. Blue, indigo, and violet foods — including blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, plums, cabbage, prunes, figs, eggplant, purple potatoes, grapes, and purple carrots — contain high amounts of anthocyanins, which fight inflammation, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and even boost memory and brainpower.
Blacks and tans: Rich in fiber and antioxidants, this color family — including whole grains, legumes, fruits, mushrooms, olives, chocolate, quinoa, black rice, freekah, beans, and seeds — can add flavor to meals and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. "A lot of men are happy to hear … I do have a recipe that includes beer," she notes. "I think of [black and tan foods] as the base layer for all of these other brighter colors to sort of pair up with. And what they do bring to the table is they do bring nutrients, they also bring a lot of fiber as well as texture, so they're the thing that rounds out the plate. "
Greens: Salad staples aren't the only greens you should include in your diet. Many fruits and vegetables in the green family — kiwi fruit, avocado, broccoli, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, kale, fennel, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, edamame, mustard greens, sugar snap peas, herbs, lime, and watercress — are loaded with fiber, and the iron, B-vitamin folate. An added bonus: They are fat-free and very low in calories.
"Green is truly Mother Nature's favorite color," she says. "You will find more green fruits and vegetables than any other [color in] the rainbow. Green has a ton going for it. Most green vegetables are less than 50 calories per cup … and most of the cruciferous vegetables are in this family. That includes kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli and those are super cancer-fighting. "
Largeman-Roth, who is also the co-author of "The CarbLovers Diet" and "Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom’s Healthy Eating Guide," adds that idea is not to make every single meal as colorful as possible, but to mix things up day-to-day, so that over a period of time you are building more vibrant foods into your diet.
"You don't have to have an entire rainbow at each meal," she explains, but "really try to think in terms of 'Hey, did I get any red today, did I get any orange today?' And then try to find ways to work that in."
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