By: Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
In the U.S., only eight percent
of children consume dark, leafy greens. Unfortunately, this is not the only color absent from their diets. Many children are tempted by sugary and/or carb-dense foods, rather than colorful produce that offer phytochemicals and antioxidants. The nutrients found in fruits and vegetables are essential not only for developmental health but to fight off disease, chronic conditions and help children establish lifelong, healthy habits. When looking for culinary inspiration this school year, use the colors of the rainbow as a guide
- Red: apples, cherries, raspberries, red cabbage, red onion, red peppers, salsa, strawberries, tomato sauce and more.
Red foods often contain lycopene, anthocyanins, beta-carotene and vitamin C. Lycopene is a strong antioxidant linked to reducing the risk of cancer. Anthocyanins, which give fruits and vegetables their red color, reduce the risk of chronic conditions
. Specifically, tomatoes are said to fight the threat of heart disease and berries are linked to a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, inflammation and neurological diseases.
- Orange/Yellow: butternut squash, low-fat cheese, orange/yellow peppers, peaches, pineapples, sweet potatoes and more.
Orange foods contain beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin which supports healthy skin, hair and vision. It is also is a phytonutrient that helps make vitamin A in the body, also found in orange foods. This vitamin is commonly referred to as retinal, retinol or retinoic acid. Vitamin A is important for night vision
and the vitamin C found in citrus fruits improves immune health. Yellow foods are also high in folate, supporting red blood cell functions
- Green: avocados, bok choy, cabbage, collards, grapes, green beans, honeydew, kale, pears and more.
Green foods contain essential micronutrients like iron and their high fiber content lowers the glycemic index of foods eaten along with it. These foods also contain vitamin B for energy, vitamins C and E to fight off free radicals
that promote disease and offer calcium for bone health. The alkaline found in green foods can also help reduce acidity
- Blue/Purple: acai berries, beets, black beans, black rice, blueberries, blue corn, cranberries, eggplant, purple asparagus, purple cauliflower, raisins, red cabbage, red and purple grapes and more.
Blue and purple foods have high amounts of potassium, which help oxygen flow
throughout the brain and body, which can help alleviate allergies and inflammation. They can also promote heart health from the resveratrol and anthocyanins. The most unique benefits of blue and purple food are their ability to assist in preventing urinary tract infections
, fight ulcers and prevent other diseases caused by cell damage.
- White/Brown: almonds, coconut, garbanzo beans, garlic, ginger, hummus, jicama, mushrooms, onions, pinto beans, potatoes, tofu and more.
Healthy, white foods include those that are tan or brown on the outside and white on the inside. One of the most common cancer-fighting antioxidants in white foods is called anthoxanthin. There are different kinds, but most white foods also contain quercetin. This may block the release of histamines
, easing the symptoms of allergies such as hay fever. Garlic, ginger, onions and all allium vegetables also contain an antioxidant called allicin, shown to act as a natural antibiotic
to help boost the immune system.