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By Anne VanBeber

Summertime offers ample opportunities for you to consume a colorful diet. While it is no secret that approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, it is also known that the majority of Americans do not consume the recommended nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Research indicates that as many as 50 percent of individuals eat no piece of fruit all day long.

Government dietary guidelines emphasize a more colorful plate that includes nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables do not all contain the same nutrients, so it is important that you eat a "rainbow" of colors that include red, orange, yellow, green, purple, and white to receive the maximum health benefits. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient powerhouses, low in calories, and contain virtually no fat.

Worldwide, populations who consume plant-based diets have less chronic disease, such as atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and obesity. In addition, total serum cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels are usually lower in vegetarians, who are also at lower risk for osteoporosis, kidney stones and gallstones. Plants contain vital health-promoting compounds in the form of pigments, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that reduce the onset of disease.

These benefits are seen in individuals who consume carefully planned plant-based meals on a consistent basis. I am not suggesting that everyone become a vegetarian; however, we all could certainly benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables.

What can you do to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables?

Plan a trip to the local farmer's market. Both young and old can be induced to add variety to their diet by sampling the vast selection of produce available from the vendors. Many vendors provide food preparation tips for the fruits or vegetables they sell. Take a taste test of an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable. Most suppliers are eager to offer a sample, and tasting a sample does not commit you to buying the product.

Tend a small vegetable garden. It is fun for everyone to prepare and eat a meal that includes the foods you have grown. These activities have a positive influence on a family's food choices.

Plan an excursion to a local farm that lets you "pick your own" berries and other fruits/vegetables. If you have children, involve them in choosing a new fruit or vegetable each week. Buy only the amount of fruits and vegetables you can use within a few days.

Cut up fresh vegetables such as onions, broccoli, peppers and asparagus in advance. Put them in pre-portioned baggies or containers and store them out in the open in the main part of your refrigerator. That way you will be more likely to use them for snacks, salads, or sautéing. They won't be hidden and forgotten in a drawer.

Buy bags of pre-washed lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower florets, or pre-cut mixed vegetables. Check out the salad bar to stock up on other pre-cut vegetables. It can be more expensive, but it still costs less (and is a lot healthier) than ordering from a fast-food restaurant.

Keep cherry or grape tomatoes in a bowl on the counter. They will be readily available for a low calorie, nutrient-packed snack.

When planning a meal, fill the plate with vegetables, starch and protein. This is in contrast to the "old" way of thinking when we filled our plate with protein. You will consume more health-promoting phytochemicals and less fat and calories.

A creative way to add fruits or vegetables to any meal is to make a cool, chunky salsa. Salsas are a perfect complement to any meat, poultry or seafood. They also make a delicious dip with corn chips.

Anne VanBeber is chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences and director of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and is also certified in family and consumer sciences. Contact her at

For recipes, shopping tips and menu plans, visit or

Recommended books:
What Color is Your Diet? by David Heber
The Color Code, by James Joseph, Daniel Nadeau and Anne Underwood.

?Sassy Peach Salsa
A healthy addition for your next tailgate party.

1 pound ripe peaches (about 6 medium), peeled, pitted, coarsely chopped

1 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. jalapeno chile, seeded, finely chopped
1/8 tsp. salt

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients, stirring gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour to blend flavors. Makes about 3 cups. Approximately 25 calories per cup serving.

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