A balanced diet incorporates a rainbow of colors. Not only does color variety make recipes and meals appealing to the eye, but colors also provide a variety of nutrients that fuel the body. Different colors indicate the presence of different vitamins and minerals, each having unique roles and functions in the body. The more colorful variety you have in your meals, the more nutritious your diet will be.

Red. The red pigment in produce is a result of powerful antioxidants, which help provide protection against cell damage. Vitamin C, one of the antioxidants found in red produce, helps protect and nourish skin cells, bone cells and connective tissue, along with helping strengthen the immune system. The antioxidant resveratrol, also found in red produce, has been shown to help decrease the risk of some cancers, heart disease and dementia. Get red in your diet from cranberries, raspberries, red bell peppers, red grapes, strawberries and tomatoes.

Orange. Orange fruits and vegetables get their color from beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), vitamin A itself, and vitamin C. Both beta-carotene and vitamin A are antioxidants, and help promote eye health, along with the prevention of heart disease and cancer. Pick up some cantaloupe, carrots, oranges, orange bell peppers and peaches to incorporate orange into your diet.

Green. Green produce gets its color from chlorophyll, though chlorophyll itself does not provide any known health benefits. However, green produce does share common vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A and C are found in green produce, along with vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting. Folate is a mineral found in green foods. Folate is a vital component of red blood cells and helps prevent anemia. Folate also is involved in protein metabolism. Green produce options are abundant, including asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, honeydew melon, kale, kiwi, salad greens and even fresh herbs.

Purple and blue. Purple and blue produce provide similar nutrients. They are loaded with antioxidants, including vitamins C and K. Blue produce also contains manganese, which is important for proper metabolism and enzyme reactions. Incorporate purple and blue into your diet by consuming blackberries, Concord grapes, eggplant, plums, purple cabbage, purple carrots, blackcurrants, blueberries and elderberries.

Along with vitamins and minerals, produce provides fiber and water to your diet. The multiple nutrients produce provides help give these foods a gold star when it comes nutrition. Colorful fruits and vegetables are an amazingly easy way to meet your nutrient needs while providing variety and flavor to your diet.

Put together this beautiful Summer Green Salad for a delicious and nutritious addition to your day. This all-produce salad provides vitamins, minerals and fiber, along with protein, complex carbohydrates and heart-healthy fats, making it a complete meal!

Summer Green Salad

1/4 (1-pound) bunch asparagus, trimmed

1/2 cup shelled peas, thawed if frozen

1/2 large zucchini, cut lengthwise in half

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon zest

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 (6.5-ounce) bag butter lettuce salad mix

2 cups green leaf lettuce, torn and lightly packed

1 mini cucumber, sliced

1/2 cup fresh sugar snap peas

1/2 avocado, seeded, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup edamame, cooked and shelled

Bring 2 inches of water to boiling in a medium deep skillet. Add asparagus; simmer for 1 to 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Transfer asparagus to a colander and rinse under cold running water. Cut asparagus in half; set aside.

Add shelled peas to boiling water in skillet; simmer 2 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain in colander and rinse under cold water; set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, cut zucchini portion into ribbons; set aside.

Whisk together oil, lemon zest and juice, Dijon mustard, pepper and salt; set aside.

Combine butter and leaf lettuces in a bowl. Arrange asparagus, cucumber, zucchini, sugar snap peas, avocado, shelled peas and edamame on top. Drizzle with dressing.

Nutrition Information (per serving): 220 calories, 18g fat, 2.5g saturated, 140mg sodium, 11g total carbohydrate, 4g dietary fiber, 4g total sugars, 5g protein.

Recipe source: Hy-Vee.com

Emily McMillan is a registered dietitian for Hy-Vee stores in Rochester. This information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.