Go Red, White and Blue!

4th of July is the perfect time to add fruits and vegetables to your menu. In addition to the traditional options, let’s put a fresh twist on the classic American holiday by adding a selection of easy and healthy July 4th ideas to the mix.

Fruits and vegetables are essential to our health. They are packed with a wide range of nutrients, vitamins and phytonutrients. “Phytonutrients are active compounds in plants that have been shown to provide benefit to humans when consumed. Particularly in the area of cancer prevention, phytonutrients show special promise for lowering the risk of health problems…Phytonutrients provide plants with protection from the environmental challenges they face, such damage from ultraviolet light, and, when we consume plants rich in phytonutrients, they appear to provide humans with protection as well… And phytonutrients do their job with style, providing plants with their sensory characteristics such as their color, flavor and smell.” (1)

Pretty amazing, right?

There are thousands of phytonutrients in whole foods, and the best way to increase your intake is to eat a variety of colorful plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, spices, and teas. Supposedly, the deeper the color, the higher the phytonutrient content. So choose wisely!

The following “Red, White, and Blue” themed menu includes many of these phytonutrients and benefits.

Red: Both tomatoes and watermelon contain lycopene, which is important for our cardiovascular health and may help reduce the risk of several types of cancer. Tomatoes are likely to be at the top of the list as a heart healthy food. On the other hand, watermelon contains a unique anti-inflammatory phytonutrient called cucurbitacin E. And did you know that red bell peppers are actually ripe green peppers? Bell peppers contain phytonutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (2)

White: Don’t let the color, or lack thereof, fool you. These foods are packed with goodness! Mushrooms contain phytonutrients that support our immune system and help prevent unwanted inflammation. Jicama (pronounced HE-KA-MA), is packed with phytonutrients that help maintain and improve immunity to avoid infections and diseases. And potatoes contain a variety of phytonutrients that support antioxidant activity. It’s interesting to note that immature potatoes hold more phytonutrients than mature ones, so next time you are grocery shopping, look for ‘new potatoes’ or ‘baby potatoes’… they are delicious and so easy to prepare! With potatoes, always choose organic and remember that potatoes are a great addition to your plate if prepared by simply roasting, boiling or mashing with a small amount of healthy fat. (3) (4)

Blue: Purple/blue potatoes, blue corn, blueberries and other blue hued plants are rich in anthocyanin which gives them their vibrant colors. These foods hold great potential in combating cancer, reducing inflammation and antioxidant properties. Blueberries are the easiest to add to your diet, as they require no cooking and minimum handling. Just wash and add them to your oatmeal, yogurt or salad. Better yet, eat them fresh out of the box.(5)

Now that we know how important these phytonutrient are, let’s bring it all together with some simple ideas to add to your upcoming feast!

1. Red, White and Blue chips and dip

Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips (I used Trader Joes baked blue corn chips), sliced red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, jicama skewers and hummus. Jicama can be eaten raw, but be sure to wash and peel the root to enjoy its crisp texture.

2. Fruit and Vegetable flag:

Arrange cut red pepper, cut mushroom and whole blue berries into the American flag.

3. Red, White and Blue potato salad

Boil potato (red skin, purple/blue and golden) then add chopped red onion, olive oil, salt and pepper with a dash of cayenne pepper. A simple and nutritious alternative to traditional potato salad, plus due to the lack of mayonnaise it won’t go bad in the heat!

4. Sparkling drink

Mini skewers of watermelon, feta cheese/queso blanco (or any white cheese), and blueberries. Cut the watermelon and cheese into cubes, and then add the fruit to the skewers! Fill a cup with sparkling water and add skewers and sip…Add a splash of alcohol for the adults. This is a simple and delicious drink for all ages!

5. Popsicle anyone?

Cut watermelon into wedges, place each on a craft stick, and then add a toothpick with half banana slice and blueberry. Freeze for 30 minutes… This is a huge hit with adults and kids!

Happy 4th of July everyone!

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