Supplements can't make up for color-free eating

Color matters!

Just because your pickle spear used to be a cucumber doesn't mean you're eating all your vegetables. And just because your pies have fruit filling doesn't mean you have fulfilled your fruit servings for the day. If this comes as a surprise to you, you might want to rethink your dietary plan. People with poor diets lack sufficient nutrients and must replenish these important vitamins and minerals.

And if you think taking vitamin or mineral supplements alone can make up for consistently poor food choices, think again. A multivitamin/mineral supplement, such as a one-a-day or a multivitamin/mineral for older adults might be helpful to increase the intake of nutrients, but be cautious. Creating your own concoction of individual supplements can be potentially harmful since fat-soluble vitamins (such as Vitamins A, D, E and K) are stored in the liver and fat tissues. Taking too many of these over a long period of time can be toxic in your body. Other vitamins and minerals are water-soluble. Stacking these in your system does not help you either. Once your body retains what it needs, it dumps the rest, which can result in some pretty nutrient expensive urine.

Also, supplements may not contain the amount listed on the bottle since not all supplements are regulated by the FDA. Check with your health care provider to be sure you are getting the right combination of vitamins and minerals or if you feel you need additional nutrients from supplements. Always take prescriptions as prescribed by your doctor.

One of the best things we can do is add more fruits and vegetables to our diet. This is vital to our health. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that keep us healthy and regular. It doesn't matter whether they are fresh or frozen. Frozen foods are often packaged and sealed immediately and may retain their nutrients even better than fresh foods, which are transported in trucks across the country. Canned foods are good, too, but watch out for the sodium in vegetables and the added sugar in fruits. Look for low-sodium versions of ones packed in "its own juice."

We need at least 2 cups of fruit every day. Here are some great ways to do this: Use fruits in salads, toppings, desserts, cereals, pancakes and for snacks. Buy 100 percent juice instead of fruit beverages (but limit the number of juice drinks.) Take a piece of fruit to work every day. Keep dried fruit handy for snacks. Buy your favorite fresh fruits in season (cut up ripened fruits and freeze for later, they even make great smoothies.)

We should also eat at least 2 cups of vegetables every day. Some ideas to do this include: Eat more dark, leafy green vegetables. Add a salad to your meal every day (choose dark green lettuce over iceberg.) Eat more orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Eat more dry beans and peas such as pinto beans, kidney beans and lentils. Add veggies to casseroles, pasta sauce, quick breads, smoothies, etc.

And one final thought. Color matters. Choosing different colors of fruits and vegetables is an important way to ensure we get a variety of vitamins and minerals. Certain nutrients are found in different colored foods. For example, beta carotene is found in orange-yellow colored vegetables such as squash or carrots.

When I was growing up, my mother would sometimes say, "This meal sure isn't very colorful." I thought she was being somewhat vain and kind of ridiculous to worry about her food presentation. But now I get it. She wanted to make sure I was getting a wide variety of nutrients by having a colorful array of fruits and vegetables at every meal. So, Mom, if you're reading this, I'm sorry. I guess you knew a lot more than me after all. Thank you.

Annie Lindsay is an assistant professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She conducts research and programming in adult fitness, physical activity, body image and childhood obesity prevention. Contact her at