Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Go Red (and Orange and Yellow) for Heart Health

Each color fruit or vegetable contains different vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals; that's why I advise my clients to eat a rainbow of different colors! Each of these nutrients serves the body in different ways and can help fight disease. For example:
  • Green veggies (spinach, kale, avocado) keep vision healthy
  • Purple/blue produce (purple cabbage, blueberries, beets) has anti-aging properties. Bring it on!
  • White vegetables (mushrooms, potatoes, onions) are a color too and benefit heart health.
Red, orange and yellow produce are especially beneficial for heart health, so in honor of the last few days of American Heart Month, I'll be sharing the particular benefits of these vibrant colors of the rainbow--and how to add them to your diet. Also check back on Thursday for a tasty, simple salad incorporating ruby red grapefruit.

What Red, Orange and Yellow-Pigmented Foods Have To Offer

Fruits and veggies that come in these vibrant hues contain a plant compound known as carotenoids. Carotenoids include beta-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin and lutein.

Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and has many roles; it helps support the function of white blood cells (which is important for a healthy immune system), promotes bone growth, and helps to regulate cell growth and division.

Vitamin A and two other types of carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are also important for healthy vision. Lycopene is found in red foods such as tomatoes and tomato products, watermelon and grapefruit. A major benefit of lycopene is the maintenance of prostate health. 

These antioxidants are thought to help support heart health by fighting free radicals--molecules that cause oxidation and cell damage. Antioxidant compounds attach themselves to free radicals so that is impossible for the free radical to react with (oxidize) other molecules.

Many red and orange foods are also a good source of potassium, a mineral that is important in maintaining healthy blood pressure. The following foods are also excellent sources of other vitamins, like vitamin C which helps preserve immune function, and other antioxidants, like anthocyanin and quercitin, which help to reduce inflammation. Plus all fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, which not only helps control cholesterol, but also will help regulate your digestive system, control blood sugars and help you stay full.

Check out all these red, orange and yellow-hued foods that contain carotenoids! And look how easy it is to add them to your diet. Try to eat red, orange and yellow-colored fruits and vegetables several times per week.
  • Carrots: The perfect afternoon snack with peanut or almond butter.
  • Pumpkin: Make some pumpkin muffins for an on-the-go breakfast. Did you know you can save the filling from your Halloween pumpkins for recipes later? {Here's how plus a recipe for Pumpkin Bread}
  • Sweet potato: A simple addition to dinner, topped with cinnamon.
  • Butternut or acorn squash: It's so delicious roasted! {Try Roasted Buttnernut Squash and Brown Rice or Butternut Squash with Haricot Vert}
  • Cantaloupe: Just slice and enjoy :)
  • Apricots: Fresh or dried, these are a high-fiber snack.
  • Mango and papaya: Chop and mix with red onion and cilantro for a fresh and simple salsa.
  • Oranges: Just peel and eat. A great way to start the day.
  • Golden raisins: My favorite type of raisin. I especially love them in oatmeal. Add them before you cook it so they get nice and plump. {Here's a recipe for Creamy Golden Oatmeal}
  • Bananas: Slice bananas and add them to cereal or on top of toast smeared with peanut butter. It's the Elvis!
  • Tomatoes (and tomato products): Create your own marinara sauce, toss them in pasta or rice dishes, or add them to your salad or sandwich. It's a snap to add them to your diet (and the most common source of lycopene in the American diet).
  • Watermelon: Ah, summer. Nothing beats a sweet, juicy slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.
  • Grapefruit: Slice it in half and dig in! Look for my recipe on Thursday.
  • Red peppers: I love eating sliced peppers with my sandwich at lunch.
  • Cranberries: Make a simple chutney or add the dried ones to a trail mix. {Here's a simple Cranberry-Orange Relish}
  • Pomegranate: Add these little gems to your salad for a change.
  • Cherries: Catch fresh ones at their peak in the summertime!
  • Red-skinned potatoes: How do I love potatoes? Let me name the ways...baked, roasted, boiled, mashed. Keep them on hand all of the time for a simple side dish.
  • Strawberries and raspberries: My favorite way to enjoy them is in yogurt or atop muesli. Also use frozen berries in a smoothie.
How do you add red, orange and yellow-hued fruits and veggies to your diet? Tell me your favorite way!

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net