Taste the rainbow

By BROOKE KELLEHER
Lake County FoodCorps service member

Peering around town, it is quite clear that March 17 is around the corner. It’s also clear that Lake County isn’t shy about honoring its deep Irish history. Sláinte!

After Ireland’s Great Famine in 1845, the sheep industry of southeastern Oregon brought in many Irish immigrants looking for work as herdsmen. More than a century later, these early settlers still leave their mark. I learned this even before arriving in Lakeview, when my landlord excitedly asked over the phone if my surname was Irish. Indeed, my great-grandparents made the journey from the Emerald Isle as well, but they chose to bunker down in Boston instead of southeastern Oregon.

Names throughout Lake County such as Fitzgerald, O’Leary, Flynn, McShane, Daly, Gallagher, and others aren’t the only evidence of this deep history. If annual potato peeling contests and dubbing a Grand Leprechaun and Wee Leprechaun aren’t enough to convince others of Lake County’s Irish pride, I don’t know what is.

The traditional celebration of Saint Patrick involves green shamrocks, which Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity to his followers in Ireland. But the colors of this holiday don’t end there. Rainbows and their ever out-of-reach pots o’ gold are just as special to this holiday, which is why I invite you to celebrate this year by — drumroll please — tasting the rainbow!

Whoa, whoa, whoa: Before you go stock up on artificially colored candies that will send your blood sugar through the roof, hold your horses and hear me out. I am NOT talking about Skittles. Although they may have been the first to claim that slogan, Mother Nature was providing her own delicious rainbow long before the candy entered the market. I am, of course, referring to the endless array of fruits and vegetables that come in colors even Crayola can’t keep up with.

Variety is key when it comes to our diet. Colorful fruits and vegetables not only look appealing on our plates but provide different nutrients that our bodies need to live fulfilling, Outback Strong lives. So come along with me, as we ROY-G-BIV our way through our diets.

Lycopene gives tomatoes their bright red hue and makes this fruit a powerful aid in preventing cancer ( Pixabay.com photo )

Lycopene gives tomatoes their bright red hue and makes this fruit a powerful aid in preventing cancer (Pixabay.com photo)

Red

February may be behind us, but the color red and a healthy heart never go out of style. Red fruits and veggies such as tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, and bell peppers are given their color by lycopene. Lycopene does more than brighten up our plates. It is a powerful antioxidant that not only aids in cancer prevention, but also decreases arterial inflammation, making red produce a heart-healthy choice.

Anthocyanins give blue and purple foods, including purple cauliflower, their color. ( Pixabay.com photo )

Anthocyanins give blue and purple foods, including purple cauliflower, their color. (Pixabay.com photo)

Blue and purple

Foods like blackberries, blueberries, cherries, eggplant, grapes, and plums get their dark hues from pigments called anthocyanins. Less common variations of traditional veggies contain anthocyanins, too, such as purple cauliflower, purple potatoes, and purple carrots. Looking to mix in a grain? Try some black forbidden rice. This dark pigment also works as an antioxidant, encouraging destruction of precancerous cells. Sounds grape to me!

Silly kids: Carrots aren't just for rabbits. They fight cancer, promote healthy vision, boost the immune system, and make your skin healthy, so eat up! ( Pixabay.com photo )

Silly kids: Carrots aren't just for rabbits. They fight cancer, promote healthy vision, boost the immune system, and make your skin healthy, so eat up! (Pixabay.com photo)

Orange and yellow

It is commonly known that orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash promote healthy vision. But did you know that fruits like cantaloupe and apricots fall into this group, too? Just like our previous mentioned fruits and veggies, they do this through the antioxidant that provides their color, in this case, beta-carotene. Like the others, this antioxidant is cancer preventative. In addition, the incredible workings of the human body turn beta-carotene into vitamin A, promoting sharp vision, mighty immune systems, and healthy skin. Orange you glad for baby carrots!

Swiss chard and other leafy greens are loaded with vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Is anyone else craving a salad? ( Pixabay.com photo )

Swiss chard and other leafy greens are loaded with vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Is anyone else craving a salad? (Pixabay.com photo)

Green

Dark green leafy vegetables are the most heavily promoted veggie in the health and nutrition world for good reason. Leaves are green due to their chlorophyll, which just like Leprechauns seems to possess a little magic. Like we learned in high school biology, chlorophyll harnesses energy from the sun, but the magic doesn’t end there. Chlorophyll is a strong antioxidant, meaning it aids in cancer prevention, too. Dark green leafy veggies are also full of vitamins including A, C, K, and folate, and minerals such as copper, magnesium, and potassium. If Popeye’s spinach isn’t your favorite, mix it up and try some arugula, broccoli, kale, chard, or cabbage.

Not only great for keeping vampires at bay, garlic — along with onions and leeks — fights inflammation, which helps keep your heart healthy. ( Pixabay.com photo )

Not only great for keeping vampires at bay, garlic — along with onions and leeks — fights inflammation, which helps keep your heart healthy. (Pixabay.com photo)

White

Not so boring as they appear, white fruits and vegetables also pack quite the punch.  For example, onions, leeks, and garlic contain allicin, which boosts the immune system by fighting unhealthy bacteria. Allicin also fights inflammation, therefore helping cardiovascular health.

I’m all for luck o’ the Irish, but a long, healthy, Outback Strong life takes a bit more than luck. It takes healthy choices. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. It starts with quality ingredients and an open mind.

Unsure where to start, especially this time of the year? Short on time? Frozen foods are a nutritious option because they are frozen at their peak.Greens might be the traditional go-to this time of the year, but there’s no reason to stop there when you can reach for gold and taste the whole rainbow!