As we're settling into 2014, many of us are starting to put goals and resolutions into place. If you're like many Americans, most of those resolutions involve getting fitter, losing weight and improving eating habits.
There are countless diets out there to choose from – Paleo, Flexitarian, Mediterranean and others – which are about to hit the "diet" table at Barnes and Noble. But what if you could make a change that was so simple it didn't involve calculations or measurements and the whole family could enjoy it?
In my new cookbook, "Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family," my goal is to show you how to improve your diet by adding more color to meals and snacks, all in a fun, stress-free way. And because it's not a diet, but a sustainable healthy eating change, you're much more likely to keep at it.
"Eating in Color" takes you through the entire color spectrum, providing recipes and ideas for adding more reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, indigos and violets, and blacks and tans to your meals. Here's a primer on what each color family can do for you.
[Read: What is the 'Best Diet' for You?]
This bold and beautiful family of fruits and vegetables is certainly physically attractive, but it also boasts a wide range of heart-healthy nutrients. Many members of the red family contain high levels of the antioxidant vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Vitamin C helps fight damage caused by free radicals throughout the body. Potassium is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and keeps your heart beating regularly. And soluble fiber, found in many red fruits, helps lower "bad" LDL cholesterol.
Try: pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, radishes, tomatoes, beets, red peppers, radicchio, rhubarb, cherries, cranberries, red apples, red onions
[Read: What Makes a Healthy Diet?]
The orange family ranges from delicate apricots to sturdy winter squash, but one thing they all have in common is a very special nutrient: beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body and is necessary for skin and eye cell growth. It's also vital for healthy immune and reproductive systems.
Try: pumpkins, orange peppers, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mangos, oranges, apricots, peaches, cantaloupe, carrots
The yellow family ranges from fragrant Meyer lemons to earthy yellow beets and is a little tough to categorize. This sunny group finds common ground in its wealth of antioxidant-rich compounds, which help fight chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
Try: yellow beets, star fruit, yellow figs, lemons, yellow bell peppers
Green is Mother Nature's favorite color. She uses it to color everything from leafy herbs to creamy avocados to refreshing cucumber. Most members of the green family are super slimming, with less than 50 calories per cup, so it makes sense to load your plate up with them. They also provide antioxidants for longevity-boosting benefits. And many greens are a great vegetarian and vegan source of iron, as well as the B-vitamin folate, which is essential for a healthy pregnancy.
Try: arugula, kiwi fruit, avocado, broccoli, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, kale, fennel, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, edamame, mustard greens, sugar snap peas, herbs, lime, watercress
Blues, Indigos and Violets:
It's good to have the blues. This family of foods delivers high amounts of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that fights inflammation and may help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. And certain members of this gorgeous crew may also help keep your memory sharp and boost brainpower.
Try: purple cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, plums, prunes, figs, eggplant, purple potatoes, grapes, purple carrots
Blacks and Tans:
This group may not be colorful in the traditional sense, but they still bring a lot to the table. Rich in fiber and antioxidants, these whole grains, legumes, fruits, fungi and seeds add big flavor and texture to meals and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. And of course it includes everyone's favorite – chocolate!
Try: coconut, mushrooms, olives, chocolate, chia seeds, hemp seeds, barley, flax seeds, quinoa, black rice, freekeh, black beans
If you start eating in color, not only will your meals get more visually interesting and healthy, but you'll also start reaping serious health benefits. Here are some reasons to start embracing the rainbow.
1. You want to lose weight. Fruits and vegetables on the whole are high in fiber and low in calories. The more you fill your plate with them, the less room there is for processed, unhealthy stuff.
2. You want to reduce your disease risk. Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients that reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, some cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and obesity.
[Read: Best Heart-Healthy Diets.]
3. You want to get healthier. If you're trying to increase your intake of antioxidants, fiber, phytonutrients or plant-based protein, eating in color will help you get there.
4. You want to eat more locally and sustainably. There's no better way to incorporate more local ingredients into your diet than to boost the amount of locally produced fruits, vegetables and grains you eat.
5. You want to teach your kids where food comes from. Whenever you put produce on their plates, there's a story and a fun lesson just waiting to be shared. And of course, kids love to make their own picks at the grocery store. Instead of letting them do it in the cereal aisle, steer them to the produce section and let them take home something new to try. If they picked it out, they are guaranteed to at least try it!
[Read: Top 5 Plant-Based Diets.]
I hope you'll join me as #EatinginColor month launches. I want to know how you like to add more color to your meals. Here's to a very colorful year!
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, is a best-selling author and nationally recognized health expert, and the former Food and Nutrition Director at Health magazine for nearly eight years. Prior to that, she was part of the editorial team at the Discovery Health Channel and was managing editor at FoodFit.com. Frances is the author of Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom's Healthy Eating Guide and co-author of the best-selling The CarbLovers Diet and The CarbLovers Diet Cookbook. Her cookbook, Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family will be published in January 2014. Frances earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at Columbia University in New York.