June is national fruits and vegetables month. Vegetables and fruits come in all shapes, sizes, and colours. The colour of a vegetable or fruit can give clues to their health benefits.
Lycopene is a natural plant pigment that makes fruit and vegetables red. It has been known to help reduce the risk of cancer and keep up heart health.
eg. Red Pear – Red pears are the best for baking because they hold their shape and texture. They are also great for garnishing meats such as pork as well as adding colour and flavor to a summer salad.
Blue/purple fruits and vegetables get their unique colour from a plant pigment called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin also has antioxidant properties that protect cells from damage and can help reduce the risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease.
eg. Blueberries – Blueberries are extremely underrated. They have the highest total antioxidant capacity. They are food for the brain by keeping your memory sharp. They actually help neurons in the brain communicate more effectively (help with Parkinson’s and Alzheimers). Best of all, fresh or frozen you are getting these health benefits. Throw them in a salad or smoothie.
Carotenoid pigments give the bright colour of vegetables and fruits in this group. A well-known carotenoid called betacarotene is found in sweet potatoes, pumpkins and carrots. It is converted to vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes. (Your mom wasn’t lying when she said eat your carrots.)
eg. Rutabagas – Sometimes referred to as “Swedes” this vegetable is very versatile. It can be steamed, boiled, or mashed; baked, roasted, or sautéed. They are very good in soups and make good puree.
Phytochemicals like carotenoids, indoles and saponins can be found in greens. They all have anti-cancer properties.
eg. Dandelion – Fresh dandelion greens can make a great salad, alone or with other greens. It is a great source of calcium, potassium, vitamin A and K, and 3g of fiber. The dandelion root can be used the same as a carrot (stir-fries or sautéed) and can also make a great liver detoxifying tea.
White fruits and vegetables also containe various phytochemicals such as allicin. Allicin (found in garlic) is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. Some members of the white group, such as bananas and potatoes, are also a good source of potassium.
eg. Jicama – It is a low cal, low fat, high fiber food. You can broil or bake jicama like a potato. It is also great raw as a veggie for dips.