colorful food

According to nutrition experts, it's important to get a wide range of colorful fruits, veggies, and other foods in your diet. So what better way to brighten your holiday meals than by incorporating more color?

Try these simple tricks to add some festive hues to your family dinner. You'll improve your diet and enjoy a brighter, more beautiful meal.

Why Eat in Color?

According to research reported by North Dakota State University (NDSU), people who eat a variety of different of fruits and veggies may have reduced risk of certain diseases, such as stroke, diabetes, and cancer. NDSU reports that the natural plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their color are also important nutrients that may provide health benefits.

For example, natural pigments called "carotenoids" provide the orange color of vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots. Beta-carotene, a type of cartenoid, is converted to Vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes healthy. Carotenoids have also been studied for their possible benefits to heart health. In one study cited by NDSU, men with high cholesterol who ate significant portions of vegetables high in carotenoids had a 36 percent lower risk of heart attack than the control group.

The colors of fruits and vegetables often correspond with important nutrients. This means that eating fruits and veggies from every color of the rainbow may help ensure your body is well nourished.

Rainbow Eating

The holiday season presents a welcome opportunity for eating a bouquet of colorful fruits and vegetables, many of which are excellent choices to complement seasonal meals:

  • Reds. Red produce usually gets its color from natural plant pigments called "lycopene" and "anthocyanins." According to research reported by NDSU and the American Cancer Society, a number of studies have linked a diet high in lycopene to a lower risk of certain cancers. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that may help prevent cell damage. Load up on these nutrients by eating tomatoes, red apples, beets, cranberries, cherries, red grapes, pomegranates, red potatoes, raspberries, rhubarb, and strawberries.
  • Oranges/yellows. As we mentioned earlier, orange and yellow produce gets its color from "carotenoids." Add these nutrients to your meals by incorporating apricots, butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, lemons, oranges, nectarines, persimmons, pumpkin, corn, tangerines, and sweet potatoes.
  • Green: Green produce gets its color from a plant pigment called "chlorophyll," but many green vegetables contain other nutrients, such as lutein or the B vitamin folate. Ensure that you get a wide variety of green fruits and vegetables in your diet by adding green apples, peas, zucchini, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, artichokes, kiwi, lettuce, limes, green beans, and leafy greens like spinach and green cabbage.
  • Blue/purple: Similar to red produce, blue and purple fruits and veggies get their color from anthocyanins. These powerful antioxidants may prevent cell damage, and may help decrease your risk of certain cancers, stroke, and heart disease. Add these nutrients to your meal with figs, blackberries, blueberries, plums, eggplant, raisins, and purple grapes.
  • White: White produce contains pigments called "anthoxanthins," and some white fruits and vegetables also provide a good source of the mineral potassium. Potassium is a key nutrient that is involved in the proper functioning of all cells, tissues, and organs. White foods high in potassium include bananas, potatoes, and white beans, although you can also find potassium in foods of other colors, such as apricots and broccoli. Other nutritious white foods to add to your meal include onions, mushrooms, parsnips, turnips, ginger, garlic, and cauliflower.

Tips for Colorful Holiday Meals

There are many ways to expand the colors in your diet when it comes to planning holiday meals:

  • Choose one from each color. Use the list above to guide you in your meal preparation during the holidays. To ensure a meal with a variety of colors of produce, choose at least one food from each color group. You can get more bang for your color buck by combining foods, such as by making a fruit salad with some reds, oranges, greens, and blues.
  • Add veggies to dishes. Have a favorite casserole, stew, or soup that you're making this holiday season? Challenge yourself to add more vegetables if few are called for in the original recipe.
  • Bake in blue. If you're baking desserts this holiday season, NDSU recommends baking with a puree of date, raisin, or prune--this not only reduces fat content, but increases fiber.
  • Select your greens. When you make a side salad for your holiday dinner, don't stop with iceberg lettuce--try a variety of leafy greens, and add chopped veggies from several color groups to round out your salad.

HealthAhead Hint: Creative Coloring

If your holiday menu is low on colorful vegetables and fruits, you're missing out on a chance to improve the health and enjoyment of your dinner guests. Adding more color to your meal not only makes your dinner plate more attractive, but it helps ensure you get a range of healthful nutrients. Get creative, and add colorful produce to as many dishes as possible--including holiday snacks. Make it fun, keep it light, and enjoy the colors of the season!