By: Shivani Shah
Every day, I wake up and drink two glasses of water. About an hour later, I eat my breakfast which is always either oatmeal or greek yogurt. For lunch I eat a salad. Throughout the day, I’ll snack on some popcorn and fruit. And for dinner, I’ll eat lentil pasta with a vegetable on the side. I end the day with a little chocolate or ice cream. This is a normal, full day of eating during a weekday. I never think about what to buy at the grocery store or what meals to prepare. For me, eating the same thing daily doesn’t feel boring. I’m a creature of habit - I know what I like, so why would I change it? Well, there is a case to be made for having diversity in your diet. Specifically, I’d like to talk about diversity in fruits and vegetables, the two things I have been focusing on eating a greater variety of.
Many of us are familiar with the age old adage, “eat the rainbow”. And no, I am not referring to the Skittles slogan. We all should be trying to pack our plates with as much color as we can. Why? Each color that we see in produce is indicative of the presence of certain phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are compounds that give plants their respective colors, taste, and proposed health benefits. For example, red produce is rich in the phytonutrient carotenoid lycopene, which has been shown to protect against free radicals, prostate cancer, and heart disease. White and brown produce, specifically, the onion family, contains the phytonutrient allicin. It has been shown to have anti-tumor properties. Grapes, blueberries, plums, and other blue/purple produce contain anthocyanins. These antioxidants are posited to delay cellular aging as well as support heart health. Perhaps the most well-known phytonutrient, beta-carotene, is found abundantly in orange and dark, leafy green vegetables. It has been shown to support immune system functions, vision, and skin health.
According to the CDC, we should eat 2 cups of fruit per day and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables. Also according to the CDC, only approximately 10% of U.S. adults are meeting this recommendation. I definitely fall into the group of Americans missing the mark with fruit and vegetable consumption. I have found meal prepping to be a great way to keep up the routine that I value, but also introduce variety into my meals. For example, I will freeze smoothie ingredients in a pre-portioned manner so that during the week, I just need to add my yogurt and almond milk. One week, I might do spinach, banana, and strawberry. Another week, I’ll do kale, pineapple, and mango. I love doing this because it limits produce waste and is affordable, as frozen produce is often more cost effective than fresh produce. I also love seasoning and roasting different vegetables each week. I store them in the fridge (or freezer) and reheat on the stove. This week, I made a batch of roasted tri-colored potatoes and broccolini. Last week, I made sweet potato and cauliflower. I season all of these vegetables with the same spices; usually a blend of turmeric, chili, garam masala, and cumin. You can use whatever you’d like. I love roasting vegetables like this because it allows you to introduce variety into your diet while still maintaining any personal or cultural dietary preferences. These are just a few ways I’ve been incorporating diversity into my diet, without breaking the bank or drastically changing my routine. Small lifestyle changes like these are the easiest way to stay consistent while still making a sizeable impact.
“Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations - United States, 2019.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Jan. 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7101a1.htm?s_cid=mm7101a1_w.
De Oliveira Otto, Marcia C., et al. “Dietary Diversity: Implications for Obesity Prevention in Adult Populations: A Science Advisory from the American Heart Association.” Circulation, vol. 138, no. 11, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1161/cir.0000000000000595.
Happy.medium. “The Importance of a Colorful Diet.” Winneshiek Medical Center, Winneshiek Medical Center, 14 July 2022, https://www.winmedical.org/news/the-importance-of-a-colorful-diet.
January 10, 2023 | Weight Management. “Am I Eating Enough Fruits and Veggies?” Scripps Health, Scripps Health, 17 Jan. 2023, https://www.scripps.org/news_items/4233-what-are-recommended-servings-of-fruits-and-vegetables.
Katherine D. McManus, MS. “Phytonutrients: Paint Your Plate with the Colors of the Rainbow.” Harvard Health, Harvard Medical School, 25 Apr. 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/phytonutrients-paint-your-plate-with-the-colors-of-the-rainbow-2019042516501.