Fruits and vegetables come in a rainbow of colors. Choosing produce — from red to violet — ensures a pretty plate full of minimally processed food; plus, each hue is nature’s color code to certain nutrients that help your body function at its best. Here’s how (and why!) to eat the rainbow:
Several compounds give red-hued produce their color. This includes two large groups of compounds, flavonoids (including anthocyanins) and carotenoids (including lycopene). These groups are both families of antioxidants, substances studied extensively by scientists to determine what role they may play in destroying free radicals that may lead to a variety of diseases from certain types of cancer to blood vessel damage. Anthocyanins may help with heart health and graceful aging.
What to eat: Tomatoes, watermelon, cherries, strawberries, red peppers, red cabbage
Orange-hued fruits and veggies offer plenty of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, plus vitamin A and often vitamin C. These nutrients support a host of body functions to help eyesight, immune function and healthy skin.
What to eat: Butternut squash, oranges, carrots, mangoes, pumpkins, sweet potato, pineapple, cantaloupe
The yellow in produce can come from the carotenoid zeaxanthin, a class of antioxidants, which has been in the forefront of eye health research. Another carotenoid, beta-cryptoxanthin is an antioxidant associated with yellow-orange fruits and can be converted to vitamin A (needed for healthy skin and immunity). Vitamin C, a powerful vitamin antioxidant, is found in citrus and yellow bell peppers and can help with healthy skin and immunity.
What to eat: Corn, papaya, or yellow bell peppers, lemons, yellow grapefruit
Flavonols, beta-carotene, lutein and others offer beautiful shades of green in produce. The compounds in these green fruits and veggies likely support different body systems. For instance, a growing body of evidence links flavonoids to brain and heart health while lutein can help support eye health.
What to eat: Collard greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, lettuces
Blue, Indigo and Violet
Anthocyanins are the big contributors to those vivid blue and black colors in produce. Studies link this group of antioxidants to a reduction in oxidative stress (meaning they may support healthy aging) and cardiovascular disease biomarkers. Since concentrations of anthocyanins vary from fruit to vegetable, eat a variety as part of your nutritious diet to reap any benefits.
What to eat: Plums or prunes, purple grapes, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries
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