Reap the Health Benefits of Colorful Fruits and Vegetables – Agweek


Recently I was at a conference in another state for a week. The leaves at home were green when I left, and they were green in the state I visited. When I got home, I noticed that the leaves were turning yellow, orange, and red.

Julie Garden Robinson

Courtesy / NDSU Extension Service

I enjoy the colors of fall. However, I get a little nostalgic when the leaves change color. I think of my now grown children as they used their child-sized rakes to help clean up the yard and fill orange pumpkin bags.

Sometimes my kids would jump on the bags after they were full. Some of the bags would break.

We would tape the bags in place and start filling.

We can enjoy the colors of nature on our plate. Color can be an indication of good nutrition. Fruits and vegetables can be red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, or white.

Let’s try a little activity. Think about what you ate yesterday.

If you eat the skin (like a red apple), you would count the fruit or vegetable as “red.” A banana would be considered a white fruit as we don’t normally eat the peel. Every form of fruit and vegetable counts, including fresh, canned, frozen and dried.

  1. What fruit or vegetables did you have for breakfast? What colors were they? How much have you drunk (in cups)?
  2. What fruit or vegetables did you have for lunch? What colors were they? How much have you drunk (in cups)?
  3. What fruit or vegetables did you have for dinner? Which colors? How much have you drunk (in cups)?
  4. What fruit or vegetable did you have as a snack? Which colors? How much have you drunk (in cups)?

How have you been? The current recommendation for adults is to consume at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day, mostly whole fruits. Juice counts as part of the total, but nutrition experts recommend consuming your fruits and vegetables “whole” because juicing often loses fiber. Fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies and add a rainbow of colors.

Why all the emphasis on fruits and vegetables in the nutrition world? Most people become scarce of fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables provide our body with vitamins, minerals and “phytochemicals” (natural plant compounds). These are some examples of natural pigments.

Lycopene is found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon. This natural plant chemical may help prevent certain types of cancer and heart disease.

Beta-carotene is found in orange, golden, and some green fruits and vegetables such as apricots, mangoes, cantaloupe, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, spinach, kale, and broccoli. This helps keep our skin, bones, vision and immune system healthy.

Anthocyanins are found in blueberries, blackberries, plums, cranberries, raspberries, red cabbage, red and black grapes, red onions, red potatoes, strawberries, and other foods. They act as “antioxidants,” protecting our cells from damage and disease, including cancer.

Be inspired by nature on your plate this fall. Enjoy the seasonal apples, squashes, squashes, potatoes and more. For more information, visit our Field to Fork website at

Here’s a favorite recipe from 800 Cafe, a student-run restaurant on NDSU’s campus. I always look forward to this nutritious side dish that goes well with a variety of proteins including beef, pork and chicken. Actually, I could eat this side dish for dessert.

2 large eggs
6 ounces canned non-fat condensed milk
2 teaspoons extra vanilla
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 cups cooked butternut squash (about 2.5 pounds before cooking)
2/3 cup crunchy rice cereal
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
Chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Prepare the squash by rinsing with cold water and scrubbing the skin if necessary. Next, cut the squash in half and place, flesh-side down, on a greased baking sheet. Poke holes in the skin and cook at 350 F for 45 minutes to an hour. Mix eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar by hand or use a hand mixer. After the squash is cooked, scoop out four cups using a spoon and measuring cup. Add the pumpkin to the milk and egg mixture. Blend until combined. Pour the mixture into a greased 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Melt butter in microwave and combine granola, brown sugar, and butter in a bowl. Sprinkle brown sugar over the pumpkin mixture. Add nuts if you like. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

Makes 10 (1/2 cup) servings. Each serving has 180 calories, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 50 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., RD, LRD, is a Food and Nutrition Specialist at North Dakota State University Extension and Professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.


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