‘Eat Right with Color’ during Nutrition Month and All Year

a bowl of saladAMES, Iowa — For good health, eat a colorful diet during National Nutrition Month in March as well as the rest of the year, said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension nutrition specialist.

This year’s National Nutrition Month theme is “Eat Right with Color,” which supports the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines’ emphasis on a plant-based diet accompanied by whole grains, low fat, fat-free dairy and lean protein sources, Francis said. “The color of fruits and vegetables provides a clue to their health benefit.”

The pigments in fruits and vegetables contain many health-promoting phytochemicals, Francis explained. The darker the color, the more phytochemical the plant food provides. Phytochemicals have been shown to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration, she said.

“For example, the red color of tomatoes comes from lycopene, which may lower the risk of prostate cancer,” Francis said. “The beta-carotene that gives sweet potatoes their orange color helps keep our immune system healthy, and the green of spinach is rich in lutein, which helps decrease the risk of macular degeneration. By eating a colorful mix of fruits and vegetables, you increase the likelihood of consuming a larger amount of phytochemicals.”

A relatively easy to way to eat a colorful, plant-based diet is the healthy plate method, Francis continued. 

“Envision your dinner plate: one-half should be fruits and vegetables, one quarter should be lean protein and the remaining quarter should be whole grains. Be careful though. As our portions have grown, so have our plates. The typical plate is 12 inches wide, but the healthy plate method is based on a 9-inch plate. But you don’t need to buy new dishes; just leave space around the outside,” Francis said.

Live Healthy Iowa

There’s still time to join the Live Healthy Iowa 100-Day Challenge. This team-based weight loss and physical activity program helps Iowans make positive changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle. The 2011 program continues through April 29. For more information or to register, visit www.LiveHealthyIowa.org. Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and Iowa State University Extension.