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.
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.
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.
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.
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.