Fruits and vegetables often get their colors from the nutrients they have inside: MICRONUTRIENTS. Because these foods are generally low in fat and calories and provide complex carbohydrates that can give you energy and fiber that makes you feel full, they should have a starring role on your plate at every meal.
What Are Micronutrients?
You often hear about macronutrients like proteins, fats, and carbs when we talk about nutrition – and although these are important – micronutrients are important, too.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals, as well as chemicals found in plants called phytonutrients. Micronutrients play important roles in the functioning of the body and brain, from the workings of the nervous system to immune function and bone strength, but our bodies cannot manufacture most of them…so we need to get them from food.
Did you know that over 30 percent of Americans have some kind of micronutrient deficiency?
Some of the most common deficiencies in the US, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), include:
- Vitamin B6 11% of the total population
- Iron 10% of females aged 12-49, and 7% of children aged 1-5
- Vitamin D 9% of the total population (31% of non-hispanic Blacks)
- Vitamin C 6% of people over the age of 6
- Vitamin B12 2% of the total population
Additionally, deficiencies are particularly common among certain populations including:
- The elderly, who may have trouble preparing, chewing, or digesting foods
- Women (aged 19-50), particularly if pregnant or breastfeeding
- Athletes, who have higher nutrient requirements because of the extra demands on their body
Go for a Colorful Plate to Boost Micronutrients
Let’s take a look at a few benefits of each color:
- White fruits and vegetables provide dietary fiber. Fiber helps protect against high LDL cholesterol levels, which, in turn, protects heart health.
- Red foods include tomatoes, watermelon, cherries, beets and peppers. These are foods that are likely to be rich in the antioxidants which are also valuable for heart health.
- Orange and yellow foods get their hue from beta carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is vital to good bones and healthy skin.
- Green vegetables provide vitamins C, K and E, which can all help support the immune system, healthy eyes and bones and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.
- Blue and purple fruits and vegetables get their color from anthocyanins. Blue foods like blueberries have compounds that act as anti-inflammatories, reducing the risk of disease in your esophagus and colon.
Tricks to Get More Color on Your Plate
It’s not always easy to introduce new foods to your diet. If you are not sure how to make a more colorful plate with more micronutrients, try some of these simple tips below:
- In recipes that call for potatoes, try sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have higher levels of fiber and vitamin A, letting you pack more nutritional punch into each meal. Swap out baked white potatoes for sweet potatoes or use sweet potatoes in your favorite soups and stews.
- Go with a colorful garnish. Diced red peppers, sliced green onions and other colorful foods are great sprinkled over a wide range of savory dishes.
- Choose unusual varieties when you see them. You can find golden cauliflower, purple broccoli, red carrots and more.
- Give vegetables a larger share of your plate. When you make a stir fry at home, include four or five vegetable ingredients and cut down on meat.
- Eat fruit for dessert. If you like to end a meal with something sweet, try a bowl of berries or a tart made of fresh peaches.
- Choose local. Choosing local can have a big impact on the micronutrients in your produce.
- You’ve likely also heard that eating organic is “healthier.” But did you know that not all produce needs to be organic? Read: When Should You Choose Organic? to find out.
In a nutshell, the more colors you have on your plate, the more micronutrients you’ll consume.