It’s okay to judge a fruit or vegetable by its cover. Mother Nature provides clues to the nutritional value of its contents by the colors they wear. These beautiful array of colors contain plant chemicals (known as phytochemicals or phytonutrients) that give produce its protective health benefits; each color contains its own disease fighting nutrients.
The rainbow of colors found in fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants; substances such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin A and selenium. These substances act like powerful Pac-men gobbling up cells damaged by the effects of free radicals.
Free radicals are damaged molecules, which multiply and set the stage for disease. Molecules can become damaged by consuming food additives, processed foods, fertilizers, drugs, pesticides, sweeteners and food colorings made from chemicals. Naturally colored produce may be the strongest weapon in preventing and fighting disease. Consuming a variety of colors from a variety of sources is how to become well-armored for this food fight.
The body naturally produces very limited amounts of antioxidants, so they must be supplied by the diet. Each color and each source provide a unique combination of nutrients that work synergistically together, unlike supplements, which extract only a few or one single nutrient. Whole foods provide these synergistic combinations naturally!
Proactively eating 5-9 servings of rainbow colored fresh fruits and vegetables daily may very well decrease risk of developing certain diseases. This is what these compact colorful foods can provide for our bodies.
Blue/Purple Fruits and Vegetables
Phytochemicals: anthocyanins and phenolics
Food sources: purple grapes, blueberries, plums, eggplant, beetroot, purple carrots, purple peppers, purple potatoes, purple cabbage, blackberries
- Reduces cancer risk
- Promotes urinary tract health
- Provides protection against age-related memory loss
- Supports overall healthy aging
- Boosts brain function
- Helpful in protection against gum disease and ulcers
Red Fruits and Vegetables
Phytochemicals: lycopene and anthocyanins
Food sources: tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, cherries, pomegranates, radishes, beets, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, red pears, red onion
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Protection from cardiovascular disease by helping to lower LDL “bad” cholesterol
- May also help to lower high blood pressure
- Strong cancer fighting properties
- Cooked tomatoes contain higher levels of lycopene than do raw tomatoes
White/Brown Fruits and Vegetables
Phytochemicals: allicin and selenium
Food sources: garlic, onion, shallots, leeks, mushrooms, cauliflower, potatoes, bananas, white peaches, turnip, brown pears
- Helps to protect the heart by preventing plaque build-up in arteries
- Offers protection against colon and stomach cancers
- Cooking garlic can wipe out most of its protective benefits. To preserve nutrients, try adding garlic to your dishes at the end of cooking.
Orange/Yellow Fruits and Vegetables
Phytochemicals: carotenoids, bioflavenoids, vitamin C
Food sources: pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, mangoes, papaya, lemon, apricots, sweet corn, yellow squash, yellow and orange bell peppers
- Beta-carotene collects in the skin and may help protect against UV damage (sunscreen still advised!)
- The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which is essential for immune system protection
- Studies suggest that a carotenoid rich diet contributes to a lower risk of heart disease and lung cancer
- Carotenoids are best absorbed with a little bit of healthy oil (olive oil drizzled over cooked squash)
- Night vision improvement
Green Fruits and Vegetables
Phytochemicals: lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate
Food sources: green grapes, broccoli, green beans, green cabbage, spinach, green peppers, peas, kale, turnip greens, collards, zucchini, dark green leafy lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, snow peas
- Eating a cup of cooked spinach per week could reduce your risk of cataracts and age-related vision loss
- Best eaten chopped and lightly cooked with a little bit of oil. This healthy fat helps the nutrients to absorb better into your body. Lightly sauté shredded kale or spinach in olive oil and add minced garlic, lemon juice and parmesan cheese.
- Helps support strong bones, teeth and blood
- Assists in maintaining heart health
- Reduces cancer risk
When Hippocrates proclaimed in 400 BC, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food,” there were many thousands of undiscovered phytonutrients. His words have become more validated each passing year.
Researchers are discovering new plant chemicals all the time and learning new ways in which they fight disease and provide a basis for vibrant health. Phytonutrients are no longer believed to fight only deficiency-type diseases, but also elusive, age-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer.
Eating true colors in fruits and vegetables is a fight worth taking on. Now you know the reasons why.