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Health Information Nutrition - Increasing Servings of Fruits and Vegetables

For Health's Sake, Eat a "Colorful" Diet

Tips for adding color to your meals

As a child, you may have been instructed to "eat your vegetables." But kids may soon hear a new refrain at mealtimes: "Eat your colors!"

Fruits and veggies come in a rainbow of colors, from the palest white to the deepest purple. They get their coloration from phytochemicals, natural bioactive compounds which, in addition to giving many fruits and veggies their eye-catching hues, also promote good health. In fact, the most vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables are the richest in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

According to the food pyramid, you should be eating up to nine servings of vegetables and fruits a day. Cassie Vanderwall, MS, RD, LDN, CPT, a nutrition consultant and personal trainer at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, says at least half of your plate at lunch and dinner should be filled with non-starchy veggies. It is also important to make at least one of your snacks fresh fruit or vegetables such as carrot sticks or apple slices.

But which veggies and fruits you eat is as important as how often you eat them. That's because different colors have different health benefits:

  • Red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, strawberries and red beans, are packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and antioxidants.
  • Yellow/orange fruits and vegetables, including carrots, peaches, squash and pineapple, are also loaded with vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium. They can also boost the immune system and enhance vision.
  • Mushrooms, bananas, onions and other white fruits and vegetables are good for the heart and help to control cholesterol levels.
  • Green means lots of heart-protective potassium and vitamin K, which aids the blood clotting process. Green fruits and veggies also help to maintain vision health and strong bones and teeth. Dark green, leafy vegetables have the highest concentration of antioxidants and fiber.
  • Blue/purple fruits and vegetables, including such favorites as cranberries, purple grapes, raisins and eggplant, boost urinary tract health and memory function and promote healthy aging.

Vanderwall also recommends eating fruits and vegetables that are highest in antioxidants, which boost the body's immune system, protect blood cells from free radicals, promote the growth of healthy cells and may help to lower the risk of stroke.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when planning your menu:

Although fruits and vegetables are healthy, they aren't necessarily low in calories. Eat higher-calorie fruits and veggies, such as avocados and dried fruits in moderation.

  • Go light on the starchy vegetables. If you choose sweet potatoes as a side dish, use that as your starch even though it's technically a vegetable. Don't have sweet potatoes and corn, which is also a starch. Pick some other veggie that's higher in fiber.

Preparation matters. "Fresh is best, but if you do cook them, use a lighter preparation," Vanderwall says. "Don't use a lot of oil or fry or sauté them. Steaming or grilling is better." And be aware that if you boil vegetables, you lose a lot of the health benefits. The nutrients leach out. So when you pour out the water, you're also pouring out the nutrients.

  • Don't drown fruits and veggies in heavy sauces, dips or toppings, especially if you're watching your weight. Try sprinkling apple slices with cinnamon instead of smothering them with peanut butter or caramel. And dunk those carrot sticks in fat-free yogurt instead of ranch dip. If you must have sauces or dips, look for lighter recipes or limit the amount you eat to a few tablespoons.
  • Eat with the seasons. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are "in season" to ensure you're eating a good variety of colors throughout the year. For instance, add squashes, root vegetables and different types of apples to your fall menu.
  • If you can't get fresh fruits and veggies, frozen is fine. Avoid eating a lot of canned vegetables, because they tend to have more sodium. And choose canned fruit that's packed in water or natural juice, not sugary syrup.
  • If you like dried fruits, eat them in moderation. They tend to have a higher concentration of calories and sugar than their fresh counterparts. A serving size of dried fruit should be no more than one-fourth of a cup.
  • If you're counting calories, buy smaller pieces of fruit. Large bananas can be almost 200 calories, so pick smaller ones. Apples, nectarines, peaches and other round fruits should be roughly the size of a tennis ball. For bite-sized fruits, such as grapes and cherries, one serving equals approximately 17 pieces.

With so many vegetables and fruits to choose from, and with so many ways to enjoy them, you'll find it's easy to create a "colorful" diet that's satisfying, nutritious and delicious.

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Nutrition and Wellness Center at Rush

For more information about how to pursue a healthier lifestyle call 312-942-3438

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Nutrition Services at
Rush University Medical Center

Eating well is key to staying well, so Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, offers many nutrition-related services. These include:

Nutrition and Wellness Center
Our team of nutrition experts can help you achieve your goals, including losing weight, increasing energy, lowering blood cholesterol and living a healthier life.

Nutrition Clinic
Registered dietitians use state-of-the-art methods to analyze nutrient content of food intake, assess baseline caloric needs, measure body fat percentage and help patients comply with diets.

Nutrition Consultation Service
Services include nutritional assessment, enteral and parenteral nutrition therapy and indirect calorimetry. Clinical staff members are experienced in nutritional management of bone marrow transplant, surgical, gastroenterological and critically ill patients of all ages. This service is staffed by a multidisciplinary nutrition support team consisting of registered dietitians and pharmacists. The team is co-directed by a registered dietitian and a physician.

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Past Issues
Discover Rush, 2006 - Spring
Nutrition - Increasing Servings of Fruits and Vegetables
Color Guide to Fruits and Vegetables

   
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