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Add Some Color to Your Day

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

The past two weeks we discussed the importance of breakfast and how to round out a complete breakfast with a high-quality multivitamin and omega-3 fish oil. If you're eating a higher protein breakfast and taking the appropriate supplements, you're likely feeling different later in the morning. Most people notice a more steady level of energy and less hunger. If you've taken those steps and made them habits, congratulations! This week, we'll take a look at how to add some color to your day.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is pretty beige. Not pretty, as in "it looks good." It's pretty beige, as in "there is not much color to it." The majority of our food comes from breads, grains, rice, meat, and various types of processed foods. For many people, the only colors that are part of their diet, are the colors on the box of whichever processed food they're eating. While there is often debate about how much protein, carbohydrate and fat should be eaten, most nutrition experts agree that we could all benefit from more fruits and vegetables.

Benefits of Fruit and Vegetables

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables provides your body with nutrients that are hard to find from other sources. Phytonutrients, found in fruits and vegetables, provide a variety of benefits, not all yet completely understood. Phytonutrients are antioxidants, which can help to reduce effects of free radicals. Free radicals are associated with increased rates of aging and are potential causes of cancers. The variety of colors in fruits and vegetables come from a variety of phytonutrients, which makes it important that your diet contains a variety of colors. Relying on just your favorite fruits or vegetables to meet your daily intake will not provide all the benefits you could receive from these nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods.

Beyond the phytonutrients, fruits and vegetables also provide good sources of fiber. Of course, fruits are much more calorie-dense than most vegetables, so a good rule of thumb is to try to eat three servings of vegetables for each serving of fruit in your diet. Because fruits and vegetables provide higher amounts of fiber and large amounts of water, they can help you stay full longer. Other nutrients, such as the minerals in vegetables, can help balance the acidic effects of some types of foods in the diet. Vegetables are also important for those on high-protein diets as they can offset the acidic effects of a higher protein consumption.

The various colors of fruits and vegetables come from the variety of phytonutrients they contain. There are generally seven categories of color of fruits and vegetable:

  • Red: Pink grapefruit, tomato, watermelon
  • Red/Purple: Beets, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, eggplant, purple grapes, red bell peppers, plums, prunes, red apple, red cabbage, red pear, strawberries
  • Orange: Acorn squash, apricot, cantaloupe, carrot, mango, pumpkin, sweet potato, winter squash
  • Orange/Yellow: Nectarine, orange, papaya, peach, pineapple, tangerine, yellow grapefruit
  • Yellow/Green: Avocado, collard greens, corn, cucumber, green beans, green peas, green bell peppers, honeydew, kiwi, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, yellow bell peppers, zucchini
  • Green: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, kale, Swiss chard
  • White/Green: Artichoke, asparagus, celery, chives, endive, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, onions

List adapted from What Color is Your Diet?

Making it a Habit

Habits are difficult to implement if they are not convenient. This is especially true with making vegetables a larger part of your diet. Fortunately, you can find fruits and vegetable prepared almost any way you want at the grocery store. You can find organic mixed greens, pre-washed so you can grab them out of the container, put them in Tupperware and toss them in a cooler with your favorite dressing. You can find pepper and carrot already cut up and ready to eat. Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries can be rinsed and thrown in a container. You'll even find many of these fresh-frozen, which are also convenient and healthy. One of my personal favorites is the pre-washed, organic mixed greens from Earthbound earthbound farms.jpgFarms because they come in various sized plastic packages, which I can put right in my cooler and take to work without any preparation at all (sounds like it's an advertisement, but it's not - I just really like it). It's easy to throw some frozen vegetables like spinach, onions and mushrooms into your omelet in the morning. If you're making a protein shake, half a cup of blueberries will give you some great antioxidant benefits and are relatively low in sugar. It might not be practical to get in all seven colors on a daily basis yet. Just strive to take in more than you have in the past.


I'm sure you're well aware that fruits and vegetables are important. Until you get yourself into the habit of eating them on a daily basis, it's hard to understand how satisfying they can be. Many people will find that as they begin adding more fruits and vegetables to their day, those foods tend to replace other high-carbohydrate sources of calories, which can quickly decrease the total calories they eat in a day. They also provide plenty of bulk to the diet, leaving you less hungry. With the sweet tooth that many of us have grown accustomed to, fruit is often a more appealing choice than vegetables. To avoid overdoing the fruit, try to eat three servings of vegetables for each serving of fruit. Also, remember that fruit juice is not the same as whole fruit.


Heber, D. What Color is Your Diet?. 2001. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, New York

Patterson B, Block G, Rosenberger W, Pee D, Kahle L. Fruit and Vegetables in the American Diet: Data from the NHANES II Survey. Am J Public Health 1990; 80:1443-1449.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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