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Plant and eat a rainbow of vegetables and fruits


Janet Hackert
Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 660-425-6434

Photo available for this release:

Choose from a wide spectrum of brightly colored fruits and vegetables to get a variety of nutrients.

Credit: Photo by Jessica Salmond

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017

Your Show-Me Garden: MU Extension brings you gardening tips from experts around the state.

BETHANY, Mo. – Plan to eat a rainbow when you map out your vegetable garden this spring.

“Vegetables and fruits in a rainbow of colors give the nutrients needed for good health,” says Janet Hackert, regional nutrition and health education specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

“Red strawberries will all too soon be blooming and growing,” Hackert says. “Before we know it, the raspberries, tomatoes and watermelons will come. All of these provide vitamin C.” Tomatoes have the added boost of lycopene, which may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, she says.

Vitamin C helps heal cuts, fight infection, and keep teeth and gums healthy. It also helps our bodies absorb iron better, especially the iron found in other plant sources, like spinach and beans. A half cup of strawberries contains 70 percent of the vitamin C many Americans need in a day, Hackert says, and a quarter of a cantaloupe contains 93 percent. “Also rich in vitamin C are spinach, potatoes, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi.”

Orange, yellow and dark green vegetables and fruits are likely to be rich in vitamin A. “Vitamin A is significant in eye health, especially for helping eyes to adjust to the dark,” she says. Vitamin A also helps keep hair and skin looking healthy and helps protect against infection. “A small handful of baby carrots or a half cup of carrot sticks has 383 percent of the amount of vitamin A that most Americans need in a day!”

When making your planting decisions or grocery list, notice that sweet potatoes, pumpkins, yellow squashes, spinach, broccoli and other dark green vegetables like collard greens and kale are all high in vitamin A, she says. These dark green options also offer vitamin K, potassium, lutein and zeaxanthin. Potassium helps maintain a healthy blood pressure and aids in muscle contraction. Lutein and zeaxanthin contribute to healthy eyesight. “Add some or all of these tasty and nutritious options to your rainbow garden or on your plate today.”

Blue blueberries provide their own set of nutrients, including vitamins A, C and K, potassium, and a wealth of antioxidants that help prevent certain cancers, eye diseases and varicose veins, and may help with diabetes, high cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. Purple grapes are one purple option, but these days it is not the only one. “There are purple varieties of tomatoes, carrots and cabbage, to name just a few,” Hackert says.

The MU Extension publication “Vegetable Planting Calendar” (G6201) lists the amounts of vitamins A and C in certain common vegetables. It also explains when and how densely to plant vegetables. Ask for it at your local MU Extension center or download it at