We need color!  We want color!  We crave color – and it’s a good thing, because it’s good for us.  .
I have a sister, ten years older than I am, who hates to cook.  Her children grew up on vast quantities of cold cereal and milk. It was a quiet understanding to be sure you weren’t hungry when you went to visit her house.  Full of wit, wisdom and a boatload of leadership skills and talents, she made being at her house a treat — as long as you didn’t plan on really eating.  How well I remember an evening when we’d been invited for dinner.  On the table was a lovely, well-cooked roast, a few potatoes and a small dish of dill pickles.  When someone asked for some vegetables, she quietly got up and poured some colored M&M candies into a vegetable dish. 

“There,” she said with a flourish, “are your mixed vegetables!”  Needless to say, this vivacious, colorful sister is adored by all. 

Our spirits crave color!  Our spirits crave variety! Our Heavenly Father knows this and shows His great love not only through the unlimited variety of colorful and enchanting people like my sister, but also the endless array of joyful variations for every living thing on earth.  To me, all his creations in all their varieties manifest both his own creative nature and his unabashed affection for us.

Not only do our spirits crave color and variety, so do our bodies.  The vitamins and nutrients we need for health come specifically  through color – and variety!  Interesting, isn’t it?  The food items, especially the brightly colored fruits and vegetables that delight our senses through sight, taste and texture, are scientifically designed to sustain our bodies.  When you think about it, our Heavenly Father and his incredible pallet of colors for fruits and vegetables  are not too different than a parent turning a spoonful of food into an airplane to entice a reluctant toddler to please-please-please just give it a try to find out how wonderful it is.  One of my favorite grandmothers tells her grandchildren that fruit is “Heavenly Father’s candy” and I love that perspective.

Well, February and early March in the continental U.S. is the dreariest stretch of the year.  We all need a little more color in our lives.  The easiest way to add some color to the bleak days of late winter are on your plate!  It’s far too easy to stick with the beiges, browns and whites that make up too many carbs.  We need something new!  We need color! Whether fresh or frozen, how blessed we are to live in a day and age when fruits and vegetables are available year round.  Though many of us grew up on the standard carrots, corn and peas, the infinite variety of vegetables available are Heavenly Father at his shining best, just begging us to try something new.  Delicious recipes on how to healthfully prepare them abound and we’ve become fond of shopping at our local Asian markets for great prices and a whole new world of fruits and vegetables to try.

I have also found a dandy new website, www.wordofwisdomliving.com, that provides a wealth of terrific information and recipes.  In a nutshell from that site:. 

Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, broccoli, etc.) contain vitamins A, C, K, and folate.  Greens also contain minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron, as well as lutein and fiber. 

Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale) are potent cancer fighters, some studies suggest.

Orange vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, banana squash, pumpkin, etc.) are rich in carotenoids. 

Red vegetables (beets, red cabbage, red pepper, and tomato—borrowed from the fruit family) contain beneficial lycopenes, and anthrocyanins.

Allium (garlic, onions, leeks, chives and shallots) family by tradition is prized for healthiness.  Alliums are high in flavonoids, polyphenolic compounds that stimulate the production of potent antioxidants.  Alliums help produce the “natural killer” cells that fight infection and cancer too.

Want to look better?  There’s an additional benefit to eating yellow, orange and red vegetables.  Scientists in Great Britain found a salutary improvement on skin color among people who ate the orange and red vegetables.  They had better skin color, looked healthier, and were judged even more attractive than those whose skin color came from suntan induced melanin.  Drop those French fries and grab a sweet potato, or some carrots, to get that healthy glow.

Though fresh and frozen are considered best, generations have survived very well on canned fruits and veggies.  Since many LDS people can fruits and vegetables, is it as healthy for us as we hope?

I have some very good news!  Here is the report from the USDA:

Canned fruits and vegetables are, in general, nutritionally equivalent to their fresh and frozen counterparts.

Since canned foods provide convenience in preparation, as well as comparable quality in finished products, it is important to know how well they stack up nutritionally.

How Do the Canned Foods Compare?

From a nutritional standpoint, fruits and vegetables are low in calories and fat, and are important dietary sources of vitamins (particularly vitamins A and C and folic acid), minerals (potassium, in particular) and fiber. They contain no cholesterol and can contribute substantially to fiber intake, a food component almost always low in American diets. Conventional wisdom has said fresh produce always is better than processed. Our findings in this (as well as our 1995) study show canned fruits and vegetables generally stack up very well against fresh. Although there is some loss of vitamin C content during heat processing, canning usually results in stable levels of most essential nutrients/ The amount of a vitamin or mineral or fiber in canned food remains the same, even after one to two years of storage. Detailed nutrient information about selected fruits and vegetables are given in the tables and the brief summaries that follow.

Vitamin A
Some canned fruits and vegetables high in vitamin A are apricots, carrots, pumpkin, spinach and sweet potatoes. Vitamin A is present as carotenes, specifically B-carotene, which have both vitamin and antioxidant activity. Carotenes are very stable during the canning process and little is lost. In fact, some analyses indicate carotenes are more available for measurement and use by the body following heat treatment. Lycopene, a carotene that occurs in tomatoes, seems to be more effective in preventing prostate cancer when it is consumed after heating or canning

Vitamin C
Good to excellent sources of vitamin C among the fruits and vegetables are apricots, asparagus, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, spinach, strawberries and tomatoes. Although some vitamin C is lost during the heat treatment, much of it dissolves in the cooking liquid and can be recovered by using the liquid in soups and sauces. The vitamin C that is retained in the product remains stable during the shelf life (usually two years) of canned food.

Most vegetables and dried, cooked or canned beans also are very good sources of folate or folic acid. Much less information is available about the stability of this important nutrient during processing, and no label information is required for comparison. However, looking at the information available from the USDA nutrient composition database, we see canned vegetables and beans can provide 20 to 40 percent or more of the RDI for folate.

Folic acid is similar to vitamin C in stability, so we can probably assume it is still there when the can is opened. Some vegetables that are not great sources of vitamins A and C can be very good sources of folate.  Beets and peas, as well as dried beans, are good examples.

Thiamin, one of the B-complex vitamins, is obtained by eating meats or legumes. Although this is a B-vitamin that is not particularly stable to heating, it survives the canning process well. This makes canned meats and beans comparable to freshly cooked food. All dried beans must be cooked for hours to soften and make them palatable. For this reason, canned beans compare favorably with home-cooked.

Another essential nutrient that is not often referred to in nutrition articles and not always on the label is potassium. Together with sodium, potassium helps to regulate fluid retention in the body and influences blood pressure and kidney function. Fruits, vegetables and legumes often are excellent sources of potassium. This mineral is retained during canning, making canned foods as good of a source as fresh or frozen.

Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber in fruits, vegetables and beans is essential in boosting fiber intake to recommended levels. Apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, carrots, pears, beans and peas provide this non-caloric food component in the form of cellulose and pectins. Canning does not affect the content of dietary fiber and may even make it more soluble, and therefore more useful.

Protein and Calcium
Canned poultry and fish are comparable to fresh-cooked poultry and fish in their nutritional value. These foods are considered to be protein sources. Canning does not affect their protein content in any way. A benefit of canning fish is that there is calcium in the small bones that are cooked sufficiently enough to soften them so they are consumed. Therefore, canned fish has more calcium than the fresh-cooked product.

For most of us, reading nutritional labels can be a challenge. Although many consumers say they read labels, they usually are checking for calories or fat content. Only a limited number of vitamins or minerals can be listed. Consumers may believe this means other nutrients are not present. Sometimes the importance of a particular food lies in the missing nutrient. Consumers should be confident that if a food is suggested as being “high in nutrient X,” then the form (canned, frozen or fresh) will not alter that.

Food Safety
Canning is one of the safest ways to preserve foods. The high heat process, used for many decades, kills microorganisms that cause foodborne illnesses. Rarely is an outbreak of food-related sickness caused by commercially canned products. The rapid heating methods, high temperatures, the integrity of the can and its conductivity all contribute to the success of the process. Shelf life of canned foods is at least two years.

No preservatives are used in canning. Fruits may have sugar or syrup added to enhance flavor and maintain texture, so caloric value is increased. Alternative packing liquids, such as juice, give consumers a choice. Salt (sodium chloride) is added to some vegetables, beans, meats and mixed foods (such as soup), in part because consumer testing has shown the taste of salt is important to most people, so it routinely is added. If reducing sodium intake is a health concern, many manufacturers have low-sodium alternatives. Calcium chloride, often found in canned tomato products, is added to maintain texture in whole or diced pieces. The calcium then becomes available as a nutrient. Mixed foods will contain flavorings and spices that enhance flavor.

Can Canned Foods Be Used as Ingredients in Cooked Foods, Like Soups, and Still Maintain Their Nutritional Value?

Using canned vegetables and beans in soups and stews provides the same nutritional value as the fresh ingredients likely would provide. Because canned foods already are cooked, they require only minimal further cooking time. Research studies in scientific journals show that once processed, little additional loss of nutrients occurs in subsequent cooking steps. Therefore, using canned foods in casseroles, soups and stews saves preparation and cooking time, as well as energy, while providing the same nutritional value as fresh foods.

(Source:  Kurtzwell, P. Fruits and Vegetables: Eating Your Way to 5 a Day. FDA Consumer, March, 1997, pp. 17-23

Well, I’m ready to go open a can of spinach and enjoy a dish, followed by a dish of canned of apricots for a little treat.  How about you?  Knowing that my Heavenly Father has created all these foods, with all their gorgeous colors is just something a loving Father would for his children to help the be healthy and happy.

Carolyn Allen has been providing weight loss inspiration since 1999 both online and in community venues in the Washington, D.C. area.  Her book, 60 seconds to Weight Loss Success, is available at Amazon.com  Her favorite food is steamed broccoli (lots of it!) with a little butter and lemon-pepper. Learn more about her herbal health tonic at www.MyMiracleTea.com