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7-9 a Day & Eating the Rainbow

I have been taking this guideline pretty seriously for the past several months. On average, I am getting 80% of my calories from fruits, vegetables and grains, and my diet is "plant-based" rather than what it used to be…meat, refined grains and sugar. This has not been a hard change to make, as I like fruits and vegetables. The difficulty lies in being prepared and making wise choices.

The real surprise is as I have cleaned up my diet, I naturally and happily gravitate towards healthier food. I shop for the week's fruits and vegetables on Sundays, and I buy enough for the week. I prefer to eat organic as it's just better all-around and my local market has good year-round organic produce. If you can't afford organic or don't have access to it…that's ok! My recommendation is to buy fruits that are in season and grown on the North American continent (produce from South America and Mexico makes me nervous). If you are eating in season it shouldn't be too hard to eat produce grown within the region you live. It's vital to know where your food is coming from, so spend the time and ask the questions.
It's amazing how much produce I used to waste because I didn't have a basic list of dishes I could make quickly and easily, and I wasn't making a conscious effort to eat 7-9 servings a day. Now we always finish the fruit I buy every week, and I haven't thrown out vegetables in a good long while. I eat most of my fruit on the go and eat my vegetables at meals. I keep a very basic pantry, relying on fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, yogurt, milk, butter, olive oil, canola oil, apple cider vinegar, molasses, prune puree and healthier sweeteners to prepare our meals, snacks and treats!
Once you are comfortable with 7-9 servings a day of fruits and vegetables, you need to start thinking about combining fruits and vegetables (not just eating your favorites). "Eat the Rainbow" means that whether you are making a stir-fry, salad or soup, or just considering what vegetables to eat, make sure you have several colors represented in every meal and snack. Some health reasons for eating the rainbow are listed below, but you can readily find much more information online.
At home I am using Quinoa a lot for hot cereal, in baking and especially in salad recipes one of which follows below. Quinoa is an amazing grain—one of the oldest on record—and it is a complete protein, containing all amino acids. This really excites me, because complete proteins are almost always consumed via meat sources and with Quinoa you have an affordable, palatable, fast-cooking complete "plant" protein you can serve to your family in MANY different ways. Here is one dish you should add to your menu at home!
Quinoa Rainbow Salad
  • Cook Quinoa: Follow directions. Quinoa cooks very fast, usually in 11-15 minutes. DON'T overcook, and allow to cool fully before mixing all ingredients together.
  • Chop Vegetables: Now this comes down to preference. I use different vegetables depending on the season. In the winter/early spring I use carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli…any crunchy vegetable. Really you can use just about any vegetable you like.
  • Seasoning & Flavor: Use any of the following and chop fine: Cilantro, green onions, chives, basil, parsley, or any herb that appeals to you.
  • Dressing: I almost always use Extra Virgin Olive Oil and lemon juice. Depending on the size of your salad, use 3 parts oil to 1 part lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.
The idea here is that you get comfortable with creating your own "rainbow" mixtures of vegetables and herbs. It's pretty hard to mess this dish up, as long as you don't overcook the Quinoa! This salad is a complete meal—you get a complete "plant" protein, plenty of vegetables and even Omega-3's from the olive oil. Serve with a crusty loaf of fresh-baked bread. This salad will keep undressed in the fridge for 4-5 days, so make extra and take it along for lunch, or make this salad for a party dish. Everyone that I have introduced to this salad loves it…even the skeptics!

Eating the Rainbow

Summary: Red produce reduces cancer risk (both skin and internal), cardiovascular disease (lycopene) and protects vision (anthocyanin).

Beets, cherries, cranberries, pomegranates, pink grapefruit, radishes, raspberries, red apples, red cabbage, red grapes, red peppers, red potatoes, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon

Summary: Orange/Yellow produce lowers the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease and protects vision (carotenoids). They boost immunity and lower the odds of developing arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteo-). They are great sources of Vitamin C and contain folate, which prevents birth defects and depression. Even citrus skins contain d-limonene, which may help protect against squamous cell skin cancer and lower LDL cholesterol.

Apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pears, persimmons, pineapple, pumpkin, rutabagas, sea buckthorn berries, squash, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yellow apples, yellow peppers

Summary: Green produce contains many beneficial substances with a range of health benefits. Reduction in the risk of cataracts (lutein), prevention of birth defects, better memory and hearing, and protection against cancers and diabetes (folate) are some of the benefits of consuming green produce.

Artichokes, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, collard greens, cucumber, green apples, green beans, green cabbage, green grapes, green onions, green peppers, honeydew melon, kale, kiwi, lettuce, limes, peas, spinach, zucchini

Summary: Antioxidant properties help prevent cell damage and are good for the heart, brain and eyes. Berries in particular have a myriad of positive physiological effects; diabetes prevention, vision improvement (blueberries), cognitive and motor function improvement in the elderly (blackberries), increase of HDL cholesterol, decrease in blood pressure, low caloric value, rich in Vitamins A, C, E and folate. Among the richest food sources of antioxidants, even the small seeds of berries contain beneficial compounds that inhibit tumor growth. It's best to choose organic berries due to pesticide content, and to eat berries whole and regularly, as their beneficial properties are not fully understood.

Blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, figs, plums, prunes, purple grapes, purple potatoes, raisins

Summary: White produce contains substances that can lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease (allicin). They also strengthen the detoxification pathways in the liver (sulfur), and help fight allergies (quercetin) and infection.

Bananas, cauliflower, coconuts, fennel, garlic, jicama, onions, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, turnips

Summary: Black foods contain the same antioxidants as berries (anthocyanins). They tend to be richer in flavor and nutrients than their paler versions. While primarily a fashion trend in Japan, black foods do offer real nutritional benefits.

Black soybeans, black beans, black rice, black vinegar, black mushrooms, black sesame seed cereal, black vinegar beverages, black soybean coffee or cocoa drinks, blackberries
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