Facts for Families

Facts for Families

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What Makes the Food on Your Plate So Colorful?

Do you ever wonder why spinach is green, why strawberries taste sweet, or why basil smells so good? It's all thanks to the plants phytochemical composition. Phytochemicals are a variety of compounds produced by plants that may be responsible for its unique color, taste, and smell. Researchers believe there are over 4,000 different phytochemicals, but to get into the 4th of July spirit, we'll just talk about the phytochemicals that make a plant red, white or blue!

Anthocyanins are phytochemicals that contribute red, blue and purple shades of color. So far, research has implied that these phytochemicals may help with blood vessel health, including reduced inflammation and improved brain function. Plums, cherries, red cabbage and berries have a good amount of anthocyanins.

Anthoxanthins, on the other hand, are the major phytochemicals responsible for white pigments. White potatoes, onions, cauliflower, parsnips and bananas are all examples. Some research has shown improved heart health and reduced risk of stomach cancer with these phytochemicals.

Heat, acidity and cooking technique can all affect color, texture and flavor of vegetables. To preserve phytochemicals, cook produce quickly and in as little water as possible. If cooking in water, try adding acid, such as cream of tartar or lemon juice, to preserve the red color of anthocyanins. Avoid cooking in hard water, as it will turn white vegetables dull yellow or gray.

Angel Cake with Berries

1 package (4-serving) instant vanilla or lemon sugar-free pudding mix
1½ cups skim milk
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1-10-inch prepared angel food cake
1 carton (8 oz.) fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed
2 cups fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries)

Beat pudding mix and cold milk in medium bowl with wire whisk for 2 minutes. Add almond extract (optional) to pudding and mix well. Refrigerate until set. Wash and stem berries. Cut angel food cake into 1-inch chunks with serrated knife. Place a third of the cake in the bottom of a trifle bowl. Fold half of thawed whipped topping into chilled pudding. Cover layer of cake with a third of pudding mixture; then sprinkle with a layer of fruit. Repeat to make 3 layers. Spread remaining whipped topping over top of dessert. Chill before serving.

Yield: 12 servings

Nutritional analysis per serving: 84 Calories, 0 grams fat, 1 milligram cholesterol, 264 milligrams sodium, 18 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram dietary fiber, 2 grams protein

Jenna Smith, Nutrition Educator - Eating Outside the Home Fruits and Vegetables Healthy Snacks Holidays

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