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From Your Garden to Your Plate Growing and Eating the Rainbow for Good Health

By Karen Carrier|
Food, Families, and Communities Educator with Penn State Extension

You may have heard the saying “Eat the Rainbow,” but what does this mean for your health, and how can you implement it? Eating the rainbow means choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow, from red strawberries to green spinach to blueberries. By eating vegetables of varying colors, you are getting a variety of nutrients and, consequently, health benefits. Because spring is here and the temperature is warming up, now is the time to think about what you might be able to grow at home for easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

If you are planning a garden this year, consider how many different colors of the rainbow you can plant. Be mindful to choose things that grow best in your backyard because some fruits and vegetables need a much warmer climate than central Pennsylvania offers.

Here are some ideas for where to start and some information from the National Institutes of Health Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Fact Sheets on the benefits of various fruits and vegetables you might consider.

Choose red: There are so many varieties of tomatoes that grow well in central Pennsylvania. If you know anyone who gardens, ask them about their favorite tomato variety; they will probably have one. Tomatoes are an easy addition to salads, soups, and sauces and are a good source of vitamin C, which helps support a healthy immune system.

Choose orange: Carrots grow well in many seasons because they grow underground and are unaffected by early frosts and scorching sunlight. Carrots offer a great source of vitamin A, which is linked to maintaining eye health. Eating a diet that is rich in vitamin A may also reduce the risk of certain types of cancers and macular degeneration.

Choose yellow: Summer squash grows very well in central Pennsylvania and is also a good source of vitamins A and C. There are plenty of ways to prepare summer squash, such as grilling, roasting, or using it in stir fries or soups.

Choose green: Spinach is a versatile vegetable that is great in salads, smoothies, soups, and pasta dishes. Any way you prepare it, spinach is a source of iron, which is beneficial for carrying oxygen to your lungs and other body parts.

Choose blue: Blueberries are a summer favorite, and you can purchase blueberry bushes at most garden centers or hardware stores. Because they are perennial, they will bear fruit every year. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin K, which is reported to support bone health and decrease the risk of osteoporosis.

What will you choose to plant this year? Consider planting something you’ve never planted before or partnering with a friend to plant items you can swap and share if it all begins to produce at once! If you don’t have space for many plants in your garden, consider a trip to a local “you pick” farm to pick your own berries or other items; prices are often lower at these farms because you are providing the labor! Picking things for yourself ensures that the items are fresh. After all, you know exactly when they were picked!


About the Author:

Karen Carrier is a Penn State Extension Educator and Nutrition Links Supervisor in York, Adams, Cumberland, and Franklin counties. She is also a member of the Diabetes Coalition of York. 


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