A display of fresh vegetables and fruit always dazzles the eye with its beauty; however, many people don’t realize that the color of produce is due to naturally occurring powerful and protective phytochemicals (plant chemicals). Standard nutrition labels list only a fraction of the number of nutrients present in the food. While fresh vegetables and fruit do not come with labels, frozen ones do. Labels focus on calories, fat content, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium and may mention only four additional nutrients. Such labeling actually gives consumers the misleading impression that this is all the particular food has to offer.
The raw truth is, all fresh vegetables and fruit are dense with hundreds of diverse vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients vital to good health and disease prevention. Each color group presents its own health benefits. These are in addition to those unique to individual vegetables or fruits. Produce color groups are: red, orange and yellow, blue and purple, green, and the white and pale-colored ones. Nature’s pharmacy plays an important role in boosting immunity, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels; it helps prevent heart disease, certain kinds of cancer, digestive disorders, and inflammation. It also affects bone, vision health, and more.
Many of the beneficial compounds in produce are easily destroyed by heat or when not refrigerated. Canned or pre-cooked frozen produce is morgue-ready and offer little or no nutritional value; their label often lists the nutrition profile in their natural state — before they were mercilessly butchered by excessive cooking and other abuse. To get the most health benefits from vegetables and fruit, it is important to consume the widest variety of naturally colored vegetables and fruit possible. Notice the word NATURALLY colored: I did not say drenched-in-a-dye jelly beans or cotton candy (heaven help us!). Vegetables and fruit should be eaten as fresh as possible, raw (where appropriate), or briefly cooked. Although fruit is nutrition-rich, it is also high in fructose (fruit sugar) and should therefore be eaten in moderation — a daily equivalent of two medium apples.
Nutritionists recommend daily consumption of 5–9 servings of a variety of fresh and/or briefly cooked vegetables and fruit, and it is easier to do than you think. Always keep your fridge stocked with an assortment of produce. Eat a colorful raw vegetable salad every day, altering its makeup on different days for maximum benefit. A piece of fruit, or cut up veggies consumed with reduced fat cottage cheese, makes a great snack. A healthy breakfast may include an apple, or a slice of cantaloupe, or red grapes, or blueberries. Scrumptious cooked veggie sides or colorful stews are another way to increase veggie intake. Enjoy a rainbow on your plate at every meal.
EGGPLANT AND TOMATO
1 medium eggplant, stem trimmed
1 large tomato, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 3⁄4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Rinse and dry eggplant and cut into ½-inch slices. Cube the slices making criss-cross cuts through 3 slices at a time. Steam eggplant 10 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook garlic (uncovered) for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Mix in tomato, cumin, oregano, and pepper. Reduce heat, cover, and cook 10 minutes stirring once. Toss eggplant, parsley, and lemon juice with tomato mixture and cook two more minutes.
SPINACH AND CARROT SALAD
7 cups torn baby spinach
2 medium carrots, grated
¾ cup dried cranberries
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, whisk together the dressing. Mix in all other ingredients.
TROPICAL FRUIT SALAD
2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into bite-size pieces
2 large Golden Delicious, unpeeled, cored, cut into bite-size chunks
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 oranges, peeled, sectioned
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons honey
1 cup non-fat, plain yogurt
In a large bowl, thoroughly combine yogurt and honey. Cut each orange section in two (remove seeds). Add orange pieces to yogurt mixture. Mix in celery, nuts and remaining fruit.
Judy E. Buss is a nutritional cooking instructor. She is a columnist and member of the American Holistic Health Association. Like her on Judy E. Buss Facebook for more recipes and tips.