"Eat the rainbow" is a common phrase used by many people that encourages consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables of all colors over the course of a week. In the same way a group of Soldiers from a variety of backgrounds -- each with different skills and experiences -- work together to accomplish a mission, so too does a combination of healthy foods work together to support your health and performance.

Every color found in fruits and vegetables corresponds to different antioxidant compound that serves specific functions. For example, orange, yellow, and red produce belong to the phytochemical class called carotenoids. Beta-carotene, an antioxidant and precursor for Vitamin A synthesis that affects skin and both health, vision and the overall immune system, can be found in carrots.

"Antioxidants describe properties of a vast array of chemicals that can quench free radicals," said Capt. Cara Beavert, chief of nutritional medicine and a registered dietitian at the U.S. Army Health Clinic in Vicenza, Italy. "Free radicals are associated with damaging cells and genetic material and contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and vision loss."

Free radicals are natural by-products of your metabolism and exercise, and they are also abundant in our environment such as from our diet, smoking, and ultraviolet radiation. Our bodies have antioxidant mechanisms for tackling normal levels of free radicals, but what we eat makes up the difference in quenching the environmentally-derived free radicals that Beavert described.

FOOD SUPPLEMENTS DON'T MAKE UP FOR THE RAINBOW YOU AREN'T EATING

"Naturally occurring antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains come in many different forms but usually only one form is found in antioxidant supplements," said Beavert. "The overwhelming majority of research has shown no benefit to health from consuming antioxidant supplements, but only from consuming foods high in antioxidants. This is suspected to be either because of differences in the various forms of naturally occurring antioxidants or that they are working synergistically with other phytochemicals in foods."

According to Beavert, large doses of supplemental antioxidants have been found to actually decrease training adaptations and reduce performance. Additionally, they can come with some unpleasant side effects like gastrointestinal distress, increased risk of hemorrhage, fatigue, and headaches.

When aiming to have keep a diet that supports fitness goals, Beavert suggests examining meal patterns to identify what produce colors are missing. Simple fruit and vegetable substitutions can make a positive impact on your overall antioxidant intake.

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Ms. Felecia Dispense is a senior at the University of Alabama pursuing her Bachelor's of Science degree in Food and Nutrition. She is currently an intern at the U.S. Army Health Clinic in Vicenza, Italy through the Didactic Program in Dietetics. She is scheduled to graduate in May 2019.