Food presentation can be considered an art form in this day of modern eating. Colourful plates are highly photographed and shown off by chefs and foodies. But as well as making for an aesthetically pleasing photo opportunity, getting the right proportion of foods from the major food groups and trying to include as much variety as you can is beneficial for your overall health and wellness.
If you took part in our 30-Plant Food Challenge in July then you will already be aware of all the benefits and good reasons why we need to focus on variety when it comes to our nutrition.
The natural compounds (phytochemicals) that give fruit and vegetables their colour are good for us because many of these phytochemicals are antioxidants (natural chemicals that are thought to protect against harmful substances called free radicals), and diets rich in foods that contain these, like fruits and vegetables, are associated with lower levels of cardiovascular disease (CDV).
RED food sources: Cherries, cranberries, radishes, red apples, red grapes, red peppers, tomatoes, watermelon.
Health benefits: Lycopene (found in tomatoes) gives red fruits their colour. It is thought to have antioxidant properties that may help protect against CDV and has been reported to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
As well as the usual vitamins, minerals and fibre that come with all fruits and vegetables, the pop of colour will add interest to everyday dishes. Add pomegranate seeds or cherry tomatoes to a green salad or cous cous or strawberries to a bowl of porridge.
Top tip: Add chopped tomatoes to omelettes, burritos or wraps! Or watermelon to your salads or as an exotic snack.
ORANGE food sources: Cantaloupe melon, mangoes, nectarines, orange peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes.
Health benefits: Beta-carotene gives yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their colour and is converted to vitamin A in the body, which helps us make hormones and keeps our eyes healthy.
Carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin and sweet potato are all good sources of this vitamin – hence the saying that carrots will help you to see in the dark. In the past, population studies suggested vitamin A (along with vitamins C and E) could help prevent heart attacks.
Citrus fruits like oranges are low in vitamin A but high in vitamin C. Dried apricots are a great source of fibre, iron, potassium and calcium too (but stick to a 30g portion as dried fruits are high in energy).
Top tip: Add dried apricot or mango to porridge or cereal.
YELLOW food sources: Butternut squash, honeydew melon, lemons, papaya, peaches, persimmons, swede, and yellow peppers.
Health benefits: As with orange fruit and vegetables, beta-carotene gives yellow varieties their colour. Foods like sweetcorn, peach, papaya and egg yolk are also rich in the antioxidant beta-cryptoxanthin.
Like beta-carotene, our bodies can convert beta-cryptoxanthin into vitamin A. There have been some studies have suggested health benefits, such as reducing the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and certain cancers.
Top tip: Add yellow peppers to chilli, bolognese and salads, or swede to casseroles.
GREEN food sources: Apples, asparagus, avocados, celery, courgettes, cucumbers, edamame beans, green grapes, leeks, lettuce, limes, mange tout, sugar snap peas.
Health benefits: Studies suggest that an anti-oxidant (sulforaphane) found in broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale and pak choi may help protect against blood-vessel damage. There are ongoing studies to find out whether it could also help protect against the damage caused by heart attacks, stroke and gestational diabetes.
Don’t neglect your greens and include leafy green vegetables as well!
Top tip: Stir peas into cooked rice to add colour and nutrients, or add spinach or kale into pasta sauce, and stews. (don’t forget frozen counts so keep a bag of frozen spinach in the freezer and through in a handful, you will barely notice it is there but it will provide so much goodness.
BLUE/PURPLE food sources: aubergines, blackberries, blackcurrants, purple grapes, red cabbage.
Health benefits: Anthocyanins are the powerful antioxidants that give blue & purple foods their rich colours, and they may also have a role in protecting cells from damage.
Purple beetroot is rich in nitrates, which may help reduce blood pressure.
As well as beetroot, purple lettuce, carrots, green beans, spinach, cabbage and radishes are all high in nitrates. Overall, there are many ways that fruit and veg can help reduce your risk of CVD, so it’s best to focus on eating more and a wide variety.
Top tip: Grab some vacuum-packed beetroot (not pickled or in brine) it just needs slicing up so easy to prepare and you can add it to salads or enjoy it on toast.
WHITE/BEIGE food sources: bananas, celeriac, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms, onions, turnips, and white peaches.
Health benefits: Some studies have suggested that the antioxidants found in these foods may reduce the risk of CVD and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
The humble potato – a starchy carbohydrate – gets a lot of bad press, but potatoes are one of the biggest sources of vitamin C in our diets and are full of potassium too. Eat the skins for extra fibre and avoid adding fat when you cook them.
Bananas (which have creamy flesh under that yellow skin), parsnips and mushrooms are also good sources of potassium – an important mineral for normal heart and muscle function.
Top tip: Make mash more exciting with cooked celeriac or Jerusalem artichokes. Either mash on their own or together with potatoes.
If you can try and eat a variety of foods this will help you get essential nutrients and, by doing so, you’ll naturally embrace a broad colour palette without too much effort. Fruits and vegetables are particularly colourful, but we also want to think about other plant food sources such as; legumes, whole grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, and fermented foods!
You can make hugely positive health changes through your nutrition alone, a large portion of your progress towards your health & fitness goals starts in the kitchen!