Have you ever noticed that many comforting “wintry” foods are fairly bland in color? Our plates tend to take on the appearance of the outdoor landscape about this time of the year.
I thought about this as I was enjoying a cup of cocoa with marshmallows. My steaming cup looked like a murky pond filled with a pile of little snowballs.
I didn’t spoil my appetite by visualizing that scene too long.
Along with fuzzy sweaters and floppy slippers, many of us like to “cuddle up” with creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, savory meatloaf, flavorful bean soup and other “warming” foods when the mercury dips low in the thermometer. All these comforting, brownish-beige foods have their nutritional merits, of course, but the nutrition and attractiveness of menus can be improved with a little color.
Most people shortchange themselves on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendations to consume about 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily. In particular, researchers have shown that people experience a winter slump when it comes to fruit and vegetable intake.
Besides beautifying our plates and bowls with their brilliant hues, eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is good for your health. Fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of “phytochemicals” or natural plant chemicals responsible for their color and many of their health benefits.
Plants differ in their makeup, so eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is important to get all the health benefits. Fruits and vegetables are the primary source of disease-fight antioxidants, which can protect us from cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases. Color provides cues to health benefits. As a result, nutrition experts recommend eating a rainbow of vividly colored fruits and vegetables all year long.
- Red fruits and vegetables, including pink grapefruit, red potatoes and tomatoes, are versatile, colorful foods with many health benefits. High in antioxidants, many red fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of certain types of cancer.
- Orange/yellow fruits and vegetables, such as cantaloupe, apricots, carrots and squash, are sources of carotenoids, which promote healthy skin and vision health. Our body converts certain carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, to vitamin A, which has many functions in our body. The yellow/orange group also includes citrus fruits. Oranges and grapefruit, for example, provide vitamin C, which promotes a healthy immune system.
- Green fruits and vegetables, including green grapes, kiwi, cabbage, spinach, romaine lettuce and broccoli, add flavor to meals. Some of the “greens” provide protective lutein and indoles, which are plant chemicals that may lower the risk for cancer and promote vision health, according to several studies.
- Blue/purple fruits and vegetables, such as plums, purple cabbage and blueberries, may lower the risk for certain types of cancer (in conjunction with an overall healthy diet). The “blues” also may promote memory function and healthy aging due to their antioxidant effects.
Here’s an easy-to-make cheesy vegetable soup recipe that received rave reviews at a holiday potluck. It’s creamy, warm, comforting and colorful, too. With a blend of vegetables in a reduced-fat creamy cheese soup base, it might become one of your favorite quick meals when paired with whole-wheat rolls, crispy apple slices and a glass of milk.
Cheesy Vegetable Soup
3 (15-ounce) cans chicken broth (low-fat, reduced-sodium)
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes (with green peppers, onions and celery)
2 (16-ounce) packages California blend frozen vegetables
10 oz. “light” or “reduced-fat” processed cheese (such as Velveeta)
Heat broth and tomatoes in a pot to boiling. Add vegetables and cook as directed on the package until heated through, or about five minutes. (Note: Prolonged cooking can result in the green vegetables losing their vivid color.) Remove from heat and add cheese. Stir until cheese melts. Serve.
Makes about 10 servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 6 grams of fat, 2.3 grams of fiber and 11 grams of carbohydrate.