Have you ever wondered why fruits and vegetables are all different shades of beautiful and vibrant colors? Well if you have, the answer is: phytonutrients, which are active compounds found in all you favorite plant-based foods. Why does that matter? Each phytonutrient has different health benefits, such as disease prevention. So to celebrate National Nutrition Month, we want to challenge you to not only increase your fruit and vegetable intake, but explore the produce section for at least one new item. Get out of your fruit and veggie comfort zone! Variety is key! Here is the breakdown of each color:
Red: The compounds that give these delicious foods their color are flavonoids and carotenoids, both of which are antioxidants that help to destroy free radicals in the body. One of the most talked about antioxidant in this group is lycopene, which is found in tomatoes and has been shown to protect against heart disease. This group has also been found to be most helpful with memory function, decreased cancer risk, and urinary tract health.
- What to eat: beets, red cabbage, red peppers, tomatoes, apples, cherries, cranberries, grapes, raspberries, and watermelon
Orange/Yellow: This bright group is found to be high in carotenoids like beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, which is needed for healthy skin, immune function, and good eye health. This is why your eye doctor told you to eat all your carrots!
- What to eat: sweet potato, corn, bell peppers, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkins, oranges, pineapple, and cantaloupe
Green: This group is packed with leafy and cruciferous vegetables that contain zeaxanthin, lutein, sulforaphane and glucosinolate. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce those words – all you need to know is they help keep your vision, heart, blood vessels, bones, and teeth healthy! The darker the green, the richer the nutrient content.
- What to eat: spinach, kale, zucchini, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, avocados, peas, celery, grapes, honeydew, and kiwi.
White: The color (or should we say lack of color) from this group comes from the antioxidant anthoxanthins, which has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Garlic is found in this group, which has allicin and this compound has antifungal and antibacterial properties, but make sure to take your breath mints!
- What to eat: cauliflower, garlic, onion, potatoes, turnips, jicama, and bananas.
Blue/purple: The antioxidant found in this group is anthocyanins, which has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer. Resveratrol has received a lot of press for its anti-aging benefits; it can be found in wine and grapes!
- What to eat: eggplant, purple cabbage, blackberries, blueberries, plums, figs, and grapes.
Now it’s time to hit the grocery store and stock up of all the fruits and vegetables you can! As a general rule of thumb, the more vibrant the color, the more antioxidants are packed inside.