Celebrate National Nutrition Month: Eating All the Colors
Week 1 of National Nutrition Month: Eat A Variety of Nutritious Foods Every Day
By Sydney Amidon | Senior at North Carolina State University
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes March as National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is about Personalizing Your Plate, and the first week focuses on eating a variety of nutritious foods every day.1 It is important to have a diverse diet, especially when it comes to eating fruits and vegetables. MyPlate recommends that fruit and vegetables make up half of your plate.2 This can sound discouraging if you only eat a limited selection of fruits and vegetables. Not only does eating the same food over and over get tiring, you may be missing out on necessary vitamins and minerals. We will dive a little deeper into how to eat all the colors by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Why are fruits and vegetables healthy?
Consumption of plant foods, like fruits and vegetables, is associated with a lower risk for chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.3 Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, and added sugar, which are all components that should be consumed in moderation to prevent weight gain and chronic disease.2,4 At the same time, fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense foods because they are abundant in vitamins and minerals. Some examples include vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, folate, magnesium, calcium, iron, and fiber – just to name a few!2,5 (See the chart at the bottom of the page for the health benefits of each micronutrient.) Different fruits and vegetables provide different amounts of nutrients, so it is important to consume a variety.
How much should I eat?
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that individuals two years of age and older consume about two and a half cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit each day.6 Incorporating fruits and vegetables with meals and snacks is a great way to meet these recommendations and fuel your body with nutritious choices throughout the day.
What qualifies as a vegetable?
The category of “vegetables” can be broken down into five subgroups.2
- Dark Green Vegetables – broccoli, collard greens, kale, spinach
- Red and Orange Vegetables – pumpkin, red peppers, tomatoes, sweet potato, squash
- Beans, peas, and lentils – black, garbanzo, kidney, pinto, soybeans; black-eyed peas
- Starchy Vegetables – corn, green peas, potatoes
- Other Vegetables – avocado, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, zucchini
How can I incorporate new fruits and vegetables?
Increasing variety calls for a little bit of bravery and creativity. Next time you are at the grocery store or the dining hall, look for some fruit and vegetable options that you usually pass over. Give them a try! Sometimes it takes multiple exposures to develop a liking for different foods. Make your plate as colorful as possible by adding in different fruits and vegetables. See if you can make a rainbow on your plate. In addition to new types, you can try new forms of fruits and vegetables to change things up: fresh, frozen, dried, cooked, and 100% juice.
Hopefully this has inspired you to branch out and consume a variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables. When you are planning your next meal, think of ways that you can personalize your plate by adding more color. Don’t be afraid to try new things – you may be missing out on something delicious and nutritious!
|Nutrient 2,4||Health Benefits 2,4|
|Vitamin A|| Helps with bones, skin, and eyesight
Improves immune system
|Vitamin C|| Strengthens bones, teeth, blood vessels, and muscles
Assists with iron absorption
|Vitamin K||Necessary for blood clotting|
|Potassium|| Helps with functioning of fluid system and nerves
Aids in maintaining blood pressure levels
|Folate|| Needed for cell growth and development
Help form red blood cells
|Magnesium||Important for muscle contraction, construction of proteins, and replication of DNA|
|Calcium|| Strengthens bones and teeth
Helps nerves and muscles function properly
|Iron||Assists with oxygen transport throughout the body|
|Fiber||Helps with digestion|
- National Nutrition Month. Eatright.org. https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/national-nutrition-month. Published 2021. Accessed February 20, 2021.
- MyPlate | U.S. Department of Agriculture. Myplate.gov. https://www.myplate.gov/. Published 2021. Accessed February 20, 2021.
- Liu RH. Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(3):384S-92S. Published 2013 May 1. doi:10.3945/an.112.003517
- Varner B. Insider’s Viewpoint: Get Your Nutrients by Eating A Colorful Variety of Fruits & Veggies! – Have A Plant. Have A Plant. https://fruitsandveggies.org/stories/insiders-viewpoint-get-nutrients-eating-colorful-variety-fruits-veggies/. Published 2021. Accessed February 20, 2021.
- The vitamins information pages – folate. Lenntech.com. https://www.lenntech.com/vitamins/folate.htm. Published 2021. Accessed February 20, 2021.
- Home | Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Dietaryguidelines.gov. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/. Published 2021. Accessed February 20, 2021.