Eat your colours

The phytonutrients or natural pigments that make vegetables so colourful have different protective qualities. Different colours give different health benefits.

Vegetables can be divided into five main colour groups – red, orange/yellow, white/brown, green, and blue/purple. Choose from each colour group each day; some vegetables give you the goodness of more than one colour e.g. cucumber with its green skin and white flesh.

See below for the benefits specific to each of the different coloured vegetable groups.

From scarlet to crimson, red vegetables make an attractive and phytonutrient-packed food source.

Red vegetables are also often loaded with Vitamin C. 

The main antioxidants of this group are the red pigments – anthocyanins and carotenoids. Lycopene is a carotenoid which is found in the red of tomatoes and is considered a nutritional 'super-hero'.

There are similarities between this group and the blue/purple vegetable group, due to the anthocyanin content which gives the colour. 

Get red protection by eating vegetables such as tomatoes, red capsicums, red onions, red skinned potatoes, red cabbage, radishes and red skinned kūmara.

For more information on phytonutrients and a chart showing phytonutrients and their sources click here.

Try these quick and easy suggestions:

  • Make a salad with tomato wedges, crumbled feta and crispy cooked bacon served on a bed of spinach leaves.

  • Enjoy sliced tomatoes on toast or serve on crackers for a snack.

  • To make salsa, finely dice red onions and tomatoes and mix together. Spice it up with sweet chilli sauce.

  • Add tomato halves and red capsicum strips to the barbecue. Brush sparingly with oil and turn frequently during cooking.

  • Microwave red skinned kūmara, with the skin on. Allow 3-4 minutes per kūmara. Split, remove flesh and mix with pickle, cheese or sour cream and finely chopped red capsicum and fill the kūmara skin. Another tasty filling is chopped ham or salami, chopped tomatoes, pesto sauce and Parmesan cheese.

  • For a delicious soup, sauté 3-4 cups chopped carrots, onions, celery, leek and/or kūmara. Add 1 can of chopped tomatoes, simmer until the vegetables are soft. Blend. Thin with tomato juice and season to taste.

  • Slice tomatoes, red onion and cucumber, add basil leaves and a vinaigrette for a delicious salad.

  • Leave the skin on 4 large red skinned potatoes and slice into wedges. Place in a roasting dish with 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint, 1 sliced red capsicum, ½ cup tomato paste, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 2 Tbsp vinegar, ½ cup water with 2 Tbsp oil. Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes. Turn during cooking. Add a little extra water at the end of cooking to give a smooth glossy coating.

  • Slice radishes into quarters and serve with a dip or hummus.

  • Slice tomatoes in half, place in a roasting dish, sprinkle with red wine vinegar and olive oil, season to taste, and bake in hot oven until reduced to approximately half. Add to cooked hot vegetables or pasta.

White and brown vegetables contain high levels of phytonutrients even though they don’t have a lot of colour.

Vitamin C is abundant in white and brown vegetables and garlic and onions hold a significant amount of sulphur compounds.  Get white-brown protection by including vegetables such as cauliflower, garlic, ginger, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, onions and mushrooms.

For more information on phytonutrients and a chart showing phytonutrients and their sources click here.

Try these quick and easy suggestions:

  • Veg Up macaroni cheese by adding cauliflower or broccoli florets to the pasta for the last 4-5 minutes of boiling. Add finely diced cooked onion to the cheese sauce. Garnish with tomato slices and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

  • Add whole peeled onions and cloves of garlic when roasting potatoes.

  • Make spicy crunchy wedges. Slice 4-6 floury potatoes into wedges. Place in a plastic bag with 1-2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp mustard powder, ½ cup flour, salt and pepper to taste. Shake to evenly coat. Bake at 200°C for 25-35 minutes or until the wedges are golden brown.

  • Add 1 tsp brown sugar, ½ cup orange juice and 1-2 tsp of oil to 4 turnips or parsnips sliced in quarters lengthways. Season with pepper. Cover and microwave on high power for 4-6 minutes, or bake in a preheated oven at 180°C until tender.

  • Fill button mushrooms with a spoonful of pickle, finely diced capsicums and grated cheese. Bake at 180°C for 10-15 minutes.

  • Slice 4 parsnips into quarters lengthways. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and mustard powder. Sprinkle with a little oil. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C until golden and tender.

  • When stir frying vegetables, start by sautéing finely chopped fresh ginger and garlic. Add a mix of other fresh, frozen or canned vegetables.

The old saying “Eat your greens” is good advice. Green vegetables are particularly rich in antioxidants.

They are high in many phytonutrients, for example, Vitamin C, B-group vitamins, folate, fibre and minerals. There are different phytonutrients in different green vegetables but they are all beneficial.

Get green protection by eating vegetables such as leeks, beans, peas, broccoli, green capsicums, cucumbers, celery, cabbage, courgettes (with skin on), Brussels sprouts, asparagus, leafy greens including Asian greens and salad leaves.

For more information on phytonutrients and a chart showing phytonutrients and their sources click here.

Try these quick and easy suggestions:

  • Steam or microwave bite-sized pieces of broccoli. Cool and add strips of roasted red capsicum, sprinkle with sliced almonds and drizzle with vinaigrette.

  • Include raw celery sticks in lunchboxes, serve with nachos, dips or place on a cheese board.

  • Add sliced silverbeet or spinach leaves to a hot pasta sauce before pouring over the hot pasta. The heat of the sauce will wilt the leaves.

  • Stir fry a finely diced onion in a little olive oil with a sprinkling of Chinese five spice. Add finely shredded cabbage or bok choy and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.

  • Rocket and watercress will add a zing to sandwiches or rolls. Use leaves with cream cheese, sundried tomatoes and shaved ham.

  • Stir fry a mix of sliced courgettes, leeks, celery, beans, asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts or capsicum, broccoli or cauliflower florets, peas or beans. Heat 2 Tbsp honey, 2 Tbsp vinegar, 1 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger in the microwave until the honey is melted. Pour over the cooked greens.

  • Slice a telegraph cucumber lengthwise into thin ribbons with a potato peeler. Serve as is, or on a bed of mixed salad greens with herbs, and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar.

  • Get a green bonus with your white cauliflower by cooking the green stalks.

Blue/purple vegetables have fewer nutrients than blue/purple fruits but are still a valuable source of phytonutrients.

They contain fibre and other nutrients such as antioxidants.

There are similarities between this group and the red vegetable group, due to the anthocyanin content which gives the colour. Try some of the less common vegetables in the blue/purple group.

Get blue/purple protection by eating vegetables such as eggplant, beetroot, purple skinned kūmara, potatoes with purple flesh and/or skin, lettuce varieties with a dark purple tinge, purple or red cabbage, purple capsicum or cauliflower.

For more information on phytonutrients and a chart showing phytonutrients and their sources click here.

Try these quick and easy suggestions:

  • Make a stack of eggplant slices, whole flat mushrooms, thick tomato slices, pesto sauce and sliced cheddar or feta cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes.

  • Scrub but do not peel purple potatoes. Steam or gently boil until tender and toss in a little olive oil. A delicious accompaniment to any meal.

  • Prepare a medley of vegetables, e.g. capsicum wedges, thick eggplant slices, onion wedges, peeled cloves of garlic, kūmara slices. Roast or barbecue brushed with a mixture of oil, crushed garlic and a little brown sugar.

  • Trim beetroot ends but do not cut off. Microwave, boil or bake whole. Remove skin, slice to desired sized pieces and serve with sour cream sprinkled with lemon rind.

  • Toss drained, diced, canned beetroot through a green leafy salad.

  • Make beetroot soup: peel and roughly chop 4 beetroot, 2 onions, 1 carrot, 1 potato, 1 apple and 1 cup shredded red cabbage. Place in a large pan with 2 Tbsp vinegar, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, ½ tsp ground cloves and 3 cups water. Simmer for 30 minutes then purée.

  • Add dark salad leaves, such as red oak, red card, radicchio or red frilly lettuce, to a leafy salad.

  • Stir fry red cabbage over a high heat with a little cumin and oil. Add lemon juice, a handful of raisins and plenty of finely chopped fresh parsley.

  • Use purple varieties of vegetables, e.g. capsicums, cauliflower and asparagus, in the same way as the usual coloured varieties.

  • Try radicchio with an extra virgin olive oil drizzle.

Yellow and orange vegetables are very high in antioxidants, particularly carotenoids, which give the yellow-orange colour to these vegetables.

A wide range of other phytonutrients can be found in this group, including Vitamin C and flavonoids.

The yellow/orange group is a good source of fibre and has varying amounts of other nutrients, such as folate, potassium and calcium.

Get yellow/orange protection by including vegetables such as sweetcorn, kūmara, swede, yellow/orange capsicums, carrots, yams and the pumpkin group, which includes butternut and buttercup squash.

For more information on phytonutrients and a chart showing phytonutrients and their sources click here.

Try these quick and easy suggestions:

  • Glaze carrots, swede, kūmara, pumpkin or yams – either by themselves or as a mixture. Combine bite-sized vegetable pieces, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 Tbsp oil and 1 tsp finely grated lemon rind. Cover and microwave on high power for 4-6 minutes.

  • Peel and slice pumpkin into small chunks, add onion wedges and toss in olive oil with caraway seeds and plenty of black pepper. Roast until golden and succulent.

  • Extend meat sauces by adding grated carrot, kūmara, pumpkin or diced eggplant. Add to lasagne and bolognaise type meals.

  • Eat whole carrots, carrot sticks, or baby carrots as a snack or put in lunchboxes.

  • Add whole kernel corn to a  stir fry.

  • It is easy to cook a whole pumpkin: pierce 2 or 3 large holes in the top of the pumpkin to act as steam vents. Microwave on high until the base is soft (allow 12-15 minutes for a 2 kg pumpkin). Cool, cut in half, remove seeds and peel. Use in soups, pies or baking. Try mashed with sour cream, seasoned with nutmeg or ginger.

  • Slice kūmara into ½ cm thick slabs, yellow/orange capsicums into 4-6 wedges and sweetcorn cobs into 2 cm thick wheels. Roast or barbecue brushed with a mixture of oil, garlic and a little brown sugar.

  • Microwave a cob of sweetcorn, complete with husk, for 3 minutes on high. Once cooked, remove husk, add a drizzle of oil and plenty of pepper. Alternatively, use frozen corn.