You often hear nutrition experts talk about eating a rainbow of produce for variety. That’s because each color — from white to deep purple — represents different plant-based nutrients and compounds the plants contain; consuming different ones ensures variety in your nutrient mix. (Plus, colorful produce adds layers of flavor, beauty and texture to your plate.) The scientific community is at work learning that these plant-based nutrients likely offer a host of health benefits beyond the antioxidant activity (the compounds that may help prevent cell damage), even if we haven’t figured out what those are and how the compounds work yet. Since it’s nearly February, the season of love and healthy hearts, we thought it would be fun to highlight a few crimson foods and what those plant-based compounds may offer.
Tomatoes and Pink Grapefruit
Lycopene is the hulk-strength antioxidant found in fresh red tomatoes, canned (cooked) tomatoes and pink grapefruit. Because of its super strength, lycopene is a research darling and studies are ongoing as to what the antioxidant may do: support eye health, heart health and prostate health. Since it may be a while to tease it all out, let’s focus on what we do know — half of a medium pink grapefruit contains three-fourths a day’s worth of vitamin C. Similarly, 1/4-cup no-salt-added canned tomato (always in season), has about one-quarter daily vitamin C needs and just under 10 percent daily vitamin A needs. Try pink grapefruit as a snack or in a simple salad. Canned tomatoes work wonders in many saucy dishes, such as this tasty vegetarian main or even as a quick homemade marinara.
Currently, there are as many suggested benefits to consuming this Mediterranean tree’s fruit as there are tiny, juicy seeds in a pomegranate. Much research is ongoing to tease out if consuming pomegranates and its juice can help boost health. We think the beautiful color and sweet-tart flavor are fabulous reasons to include the arils — the fancy name of the seed — in your cooking. Time-saving tip: You may find the arils packaged in the produce department, which require no work except picking up the container. Also, one-half cup arils contains more than ten percent daily fiber needs and about 15 percent daily vitamins C and K. Try the arils atop guacamole or in a salsa served with roast chicken or pork tenderloin.
These tart berries likely have antioxidant activity, and emerging research shows that the berries may help with dental health. In their raw, unprocessed form, you can enjoy their full flavor (as opposed to the sweetened, caloric juice derivative). One-quarter cup of the chopped jewel-colored fruit delivers tart-sweet flavor for under 15 calories. We particularly love them raw, puréed into a quick sauce or as the tangy element of a salad.
Besides their beautiful red color (which is enjoying some research attention for natural food coloring options), beets are sources of several potential free-radical scavengers known as antioxidants. These antioxidants are under study, and other compounds in beets are showing promise. While more, stronger research has to be done, in the mean time, incorporate beets in your cooking. This salad is a great option; roast a few extra beets for this hummus for an unexpected and delicious dip or sandwich spread.
Sweet or sour, red and juicy, cherries contain plenty of red-hued antioxidants. We love frozen cherries right now because they’re frozen when fresh, already pitted, pretty sweet (even the unsweetened ones), and one-half cup contains ten percent of your daily fiber needs. They work great in a crisp, as an oatmeal partner for breakfast or as a smoothie.
Do you eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables? Tell us your favorite red fruits and vegetables, and how you prepare them.