In an earlier blog post, “Five Tips for a Healthier You in 2017,” one of the tips was Eat the Rainbow. While eating fruits and vegetables is good for our health, there are benefits to a colorful plate of produce!
First, it is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to get all of the vitamins and minerals that you need. Certain colors can be associated with different nutrients, like red/orange with Vitamin A and dark green with Vitamin K. Additionally, certain plant compounds called phytonutrients not only contribute to the brilliant colors of produce but also have health benefits. These compounds are not essential to our body like vitamins and minerals; think of them as a bonus! Evidence suggests that these compounds may help keep our body healthy and protect against some chronic diseases. Regularly eating produce of all colors ensures you are getting a variety of phytonutrients in addition to other nutrients that our bodies need.
Think about the phytonutrients in different fruits and vegetables by color groups just like in grade school – ROY G. BIV.
Red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene. This compound is an antioxidant, which can protect cells and prevent cell damage. Lycopene may reduce risk of some cancers and promote heart health. Tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, red grapefruit, and red bell peppers are just a few examples.
Orange and Yellow
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, pineapple, mangoes, and squash are good sources of carotenoids, a group of compounds that promote healthy eyes, skin, and immune system. They may also help protect against age-related macular degeneration.
Green vegetables have a myriad of benefits. Chlorophyll provides the green color, but the health benefits come from carotenoids like the orange and yellow group. Green vegetables come with a lot of benefits, such as eye health, immune system health, and antioxidant action. There are a variety to choose from: asparagus, broccoli, green beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and any type of dark leafy green like spinach or kale.
Blue and Violet
This might not be a group that initially comes to mind, but there are many fruits and vegetables that are blue and violet: berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries), grapes, red onion, red radishes, eggplant, and purple cabbage. This group has anthocyanidins that act as antioxidants and can keep blood vessels healthy. Thus, these foods might reduce risk of stroke and heart disease.
Don’t count out pale produce! They still provide plenty of beneficial nutrients and are a category to include like all the others. In fact, white fruits and vegetables like mushrooms, garlic, onions, bananas, and potatoes are associated with improving blood pressure and cholesterol.
When planning your next grocery list or weekly menu, see how you can incorporate all of the rainbow throughout the week!
Emily Selph is a graduate research assistant and dietetic intern with the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia.This article was adapted from these sources:
- Fruit and Veggies More Matters. Taste a Rainbow…Of Fruits & Veggies. Available at: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/taste-a-rainbow-of-fruits-and-veggies (accessed 4 April 2017).
- Fruit and Veggies More Matters. What Are Phytonutrients? Available at: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/what-are-phytochemicals (accessed 4 April 2017).