November 28, 2014

View as List The Benefits of Colorful Produce

  • Colorful fruits and vegetables apples grapes leafy greens

    Fruits and vegetables get their colors from natural pigments. There are almost 2,000 known plant pigments, including more than 800 flavonoids, 450 carotenoids, and 150 anthocyanins. They are wonderfully useful to humans: they make food appealing, tip you off to ripeness and flavor and help you tell apples from apricots. And, on top of that, they have health benefits! Here's a sampling of produce colors and their benefits.

     

  • 1

    Red

    Young girl with blue eyes eating a watermelon slice

    Tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon and guava contain the carotenoid lycopene, a red pigment. This may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells in several ways, including stimulating the immune system to battle cancer cells, blocking the destructive action of free radicals in the body and lowering the potency of the male hormone testosterone, which can fuel prostate cancer.

  • 2

    Red, Purple and Blue

    strawberries, blueberries, cherries

    Blueberries, strawberries, beets, eggplant, red and blue grapes, red cabbage, plums, red apples and cherries contain anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that provide a reddish-blue color. They may help protect against heart disease.

  • 3

    Orange

    Little girl in blue dress in a pumpkin patch

    Acorn and butternut squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, apricots, carrots, mangoes and cantaloupe contain alpha and beta carotene, which provide an orange color. As an antioxidant, beta carotene helps mop up free radicals that may promote cancer. Alpha carotene intake has been linked with a reduced risk of various cancers, including lung and cervical.

  • 4

    Orange-Yellow

    Loose peaches on a striped table cloth

    Peaches, oranges, tangerines, nectarines and papayas are rich in beta cryptoxanthin. Besides acting as an antioxidant, this pigment may help suppress the growth of tumor cells, as in cervical cancer.

  • 5

    Yellow-Green

    Yellow and green bell peppers with romaine lettuce, tomato and red bell pepper

    Corn, cucumbers (with skin), green beans, green peas, yellow and green peppers, honeydew melon, kiwifruit, romaine lettuce and spinach contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that seem to protect eye health. They may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, which can cause loss of vision. They not only squelch free radicals and absorb potentially damaging blue light in the eye, but may also activate the immune system so it’s better able to fend off cancer.

  • 6

    Try all the Colors!

    celery sticks, carrot sticks, tomatoes, cucumber, white dip

    Make your grocery basket and your plate as colorful as you can. The darker and richer the colors, the better. So, choose dark leafy greens. Substitute sweet potatoes for white potatoes or pasta. Add bright peppers to salads and side dishes. Toss a few cherry tomatoes into the salad. Snack on carrots, blueberries, and mangoes. And stock up on beans (legumes), which contain healthful pigmented compounds in their coating. From mottled pinto and cranberry beans to pink or dark red kidney beans and the maroon adzuki, beans make a beautiful, nutritious mosaic.

  • 7

    Color and Beyond

    Colorful produce: bananas, grapes, radishes, apples, cauliflower, more

    In addition to pigments, colorful foods can contain many other beneficial phytochemicals. For example, broccoli contains indoles, which may help prevent cancer. But indoles are not colored. In addition, pale plant foods—such as cauliflower, green grapes, beans, bananas and pears—are also worth eating. They have their share of phytochemicals, as well as vitamins and minerals. However, if you pay special attention to highly colored produce, making sure you have some with every meal and as snacks, you can’t go wrong.