The pigments in many common fruits and vegetables dish up some extraordinary side benefits when it comes to good health and good nutrition. By: Maureen Callahan, MS, RD
A bowl of blueberries, a slice of kiwi, or a roasted sweet potato all provide a visual feast, but what's intriguing to scientists are the pigments creating those rich, rainbow hues. These powerful health-promoting substances do everything from ward off heart disease to prevent cancer. From red to purple to green, each colorful class of produce has its own unique benefits.
Color it Blue and Purple
Blueberries, eggplant (especially the skin), and other blue to blue-purple hued produce harbor powerful antioxidants such as anthocyanins and phenolics. These compounds promote healthy aging and memory function and may ward off many cancers.
You should know: The darker the blue hue, the richer a food is in health-promoting anthocyanins.
Color it Red
Red-hued produce contains substances that promote heart health, memory function, and that help lower risk for some cancers. They also contain lutein, a powerful antioxidant, that may help prevent the build up of arterial plaque. Other red produce: strawberries, watermelon, pomegranates, beets, red onions and cranberries.
You should know: Cooking lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes helps release more of their antioxidant content and make it more easily absorbed.
Color it Green
Eating green can help protect your vision, promote strong bones and teeth, and ward off some cancers. Vegetables like broccoli have large concentrations of cancer protective compounds called indoles. Leafy greens are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect the sensitive tissues of the eye from damage, including cataracts.
You should know: Preliminary studies hint that chlorophyll, a pigment plants use to trap the light they need for photosynthesis, may have antioxidant properties.
Color it Yellow and Orange
Beta carotene, bioflavonoids, alpha carotenoids, and vitamin C are a few of the powerful phytochemicals this color group offers. These substances help keep the immune system strong, promote healthy vision and protect against both heart disease and certain types of cancer, particularly of the lung, esophagus and stomach.
You should know: Studies confirm that whole foods, not supplements, are the best source of beta carotene (and most other health-promoting chemicals) in the fresh produce arsenal.
Color it White
Since white light is composed of all the colors of the rainbow, it's easy to understand why produce with a white or white-tan hue also harbors health-beneficial phytochemicals including allicin (garlic, onions) and the mineral selenium (mushrooms). Other white produce: bananas, white peaches, cauliflower, ginger, jicama, parsnips, turnips, and white corn.
You should know: Most Americans eat less than five servings of fruit or veggies per day instead of the recommended nine to 13 (about 4.5 cups) servings.
Eat Colorfully, Live Healthfully
We eat with our eyes first, and embracing a variety of colorful produce will not only make your meals more fun. A produce rich diet can help lower your risk for chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease, and also protect your eyesight and combat the effects of aging.