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The five colors you need to have on your plate

By KATHY MORAN, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 06, 2020 8:17 am

The top five: Pechay and sitaw for green; tomatoes and watermelons for red; garlic, mushrooms and onions for white; carrots and pineapples for orange; and grapes and eggplants for purple.

Since the start of the lockdown in March I have made sure that I eat what I consider the five colors of vegetables and fruits that matter to a vegetarian like me. Although, in my 30-plus years of being a vegetarian, I have made sure not to be so strict as to make it impossible to live a happy life, as well as a healthy one.

I have done lots of shopping online and my veggie delivery of choice has been @titasfreshproduce on Instagram. Staying at home is a must, but getting the best of what the markets have to offer is something that I never scrimp on. And @titasfreshproduce has not let me down.

Amway Corporation’s Global Phytonutrient Report reveals that only one in four people meet the minimum recommendation of five servings (400 grams) of fruits and vegetables per day — a reality that has greater implications now more than ever. When anyone’s best defense against a highly contagious virus is a healthy body, the limited intake of important phytonutrients prevents people from achieving optimal health.

“Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients or phytochemicals that give plants their vibrant color and provide them protection,” explains Leni Olmedo, country manager of Amway Philippines, the local branch of the direct-selling giant. “When consumed, they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and help enhance immunity. Amid a health crisis, it is ideal to have at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily, as recommended by the World Health Organization or WHO, and all five phytonutrient colors on your plate.”

The Global Phytonutrient Report summarizes the total fruit and vegetable intake in servings per day and the primary types of plants available in various global regions. Amway’s plant-based health supplement brand Nutrilite then makes inferences about phytonutrient intake.

I have also believed that the roles of the five colors matter more as we age. The five colors and their roles, as enumerated in the Nutrilite study, are green for cell and vision health; red for prostate and heart health; white to support a healthy circulatory system and bones; orange for eye health, immune system function, and healthy growth and development; and purple or blue for antioxidant protection that’s good for the heart.

Further analysis by the supplement brand also suggests that consumers may not be meeting the standard due to eating habits that are driven by factors such as cost, seasonal and geographical availability of plants, and accessibility, especially these days when people remain in their homes. From a local standpoint, recent data from the National Nutrition Council (NNC) shows that 69 percent of Filipino households do not meet the daily nutritional and energy requirement for productivity.

Eat your veggies

Olmedo believes that we can maximize benefits from plants by increasing intake and ensuring consumption of all colors, especially as more entrepreneurs find ways to bring fresh produce from farms and markets to households. She gives examples that are widely available in the country: pechay and sitaw for green; tomatoes and watermelons for red; garlic, mushrooms and onions for white; carrots and pineapples for orange; and grapes and eggplants for purple.

Phytonutrients have been the cornerstone of Nutrilite products for over 80 years. “The fruits and vegetables in our supplements are studied intensively and harvested from Amway-owned certified organic farms,” Olmedo shares. “This ensures peak concentrations of phytonutrients in and the safety and effectiveness of our products.”

Good veggie meals are the real deal

So, you ask, what does a regular meal for me look like?

Well, there are many vegetables that I really like that are green, for example, sitaw, monggo, pechay and malunggay (which we get from our tree out front.) I remember that my late mother would always tell me to eat my greens so that I would have good skin. At my age (almost 60), with good eating habits, my skin is still in good condition.

I know that it may be a boring diet to some: two to three cups of vegetables per day, according to the USDA. But here’s something you might not know: You don’t have to gnaw your way through bowl after bowl of raw kale to be one of the 10 percent of people who actually meet that goal.

When I am at home I can eat veggies the way I like them cooked; that is, semi-cooked and not cooked to the core. I am tired of leaves (whether as sidings or cold salads) for lunch, although there are many salads that are great. And, truth to tell, I can’t get excited about cold dinners. Since I do work out regularly, a smoothie is something I look for as an after-workout meal.

Almost any veggie goes down easier in a thick and delicious, creamy smoothie, especially when it’s blended with citrus to balance out any bitterness. I add a big handful of kale or spinach to my morning smoothie with my flexing, knowing that I started my day with extra iron.

Have you tried toast with avocado? It is really a cool dish. But did you know that there are many other veggies and fruits that go well with toast? Start with a swipe of part-skim ricotta or hummus, and then add hydrating tomatoes and cucumbers. Or, pair sautéed mushrooms with a sunny side-up egg.  I eat eggs, and I have been told that an egg a day keeps the virus at bay.

As long as you’re cracking eggs, it’s easy-peasy to get veggies like bell peppers, mushrooms, or spinach into the mix. Chase them around a hot pan before adding the eggs, or just reach for leftover roasted veggies from last night’s dinner. 

And, before I sound like a boring vegetarian to you, let me say I do enjoy my chocolates, too — the darker the better.

I like muffins when I have them with a bit of green vegetables, but zucchini is my fave, because of its moisture, making it surprisingly delicious in bread, muffins, or pancakes. Try zucchini with muffins or pancakes and chocolate chips — just yummy. 

Going Italian: Top that pizza dough with veggies from your salad.

I am sure that a veggie pizza is not something most meat eaters have tried, even once. But if all I have is a salad, I like to pile it on pizza dough: tomatoes, eggplant, or any other favorite veggie toppings. 

And, of course, rice. Who can live without it? Not me.  The cauliflower rice trend is a healthy one: Just drop florets into a food processor, and pulse until they form grains of “rice” or “couscous.” It’s a low-cal alternative to rice or pasta, with the added benefit of phytochemicals that may help fight cancer. 

Basta pasta — yes, pasta. I like mine with veggies and tofu in the sauce. But veggie noodles take it one step further, replacing some of those refined carbs, and piling more plants onto your plate. Try zucchini noodles with pesto and and grilled tofu. Just perfect.

Grilled to perfection: Tofu.

Stay safe and healthy, too

Just remember that staying healthy in this pandemic is a must. Vitamins are good supplements, but eating right — and making sure that we get our five colors in our meal mix — will only do us good.

Fruits? Just eat them as dessert, or mix whatever fruit is in season to your smoothie.

So, whoever said being a vegetarian is boring should wake up and taste how fresh and yummy vegetables and fruits really are.