What Color is Your Food?
Taste a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for better health
FN-595, Revised February 2009 (Reviewed and reprinted May 2011)
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist
Red fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called “lycopene” or “anthocyanins.” Lycopene in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit, for example, may help reduce risk of several types of cancer, especially prostate cancer. Lycopene in foods containing cooked tomatoes, such as spaghetti sauce, and a small amount of fat are absorbed better than lycopene from raw tomatoes.
Anthocyanins in strawberries, raspberries, red grapes and other fruits and vegetables act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. Antioxidants are linked with keeping our hearts healthy, too.
These are some examples of the red group:
- Red apples
- Red cabbage
- Pink grapefruit
- Red grapes
- Red peppers
- Red potatoes
Orange/yellow fruits and vegetables are usually colored by natural plant pigments called “carotenoids.” Beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, pumpkins and carrots is converted to vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes. Scientists have also reported that carotenoid-rich foods can help reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and can improve immune system function.
One study found that people who ate a diet high in carotenoid-rich vegetables were 43 percent less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, an eye disorder common among the elderly, which can lead to blindness.
Carotenoids also may be good for your heart. One study found that men with high cholesterol who ate plenty of vegetables high in carotenoids had a 36 percent lower chance of heart attack and death than their counterparts who shunned vegetables.
Citrus fruits like oranges are not a good source of vitamin A. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce risk of birth defects.
Some examples of the orange/yellow group include:
- Yellow apples
- Butternut squash
- Yellow peppers
- Yellow summer or winter squash
- Sweet corn
- Sweet potatoes
- Yellow tomatoes
- Yellow watermelon
Green fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigment called “chlorophyll.” Some members of the green group, including spinach and other dark leafy greens, green peppers, peas, cucumber and celery, contain lutein. Lutein works with another chemical, zeaxanthin, found in corn, red peppers, oranges, grapes and egg yolks to help keep eyes healthy. Together, these chemicals may help reduce risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness if untreated.
The “indoles” in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables may help protect against some types of cancer. Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are excellent sources of folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce risk of birth defects.
Some examples of the green group include:
- Green apples
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Green cabbage
- Green grapes
- Honeydew melon
- Green onions
- Green pepper
Blue/purple fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called “anthocyanins.” Anthocyanins in blueberries, grapes and raisins act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. They may help reduce risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Other studies have shown that eating more blueberries is linked with improved memory function and healthy aging.
These are some examples of the blue/purple group:
- Purple grapes
White fruits and vegetables are colored by pigments called “anthoxanthins.” They may contain health-promoting chemicals such as allicin, which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and may help reduce risk of stomach cancer and heart disease. Some members of the white group, such as bananas and potatoes, are good sources of the mineral potassium, too.
Some examples of the white group include: