Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to consume phytonutrients. Each color of fruits and vegetables represents different phytonutrients, including antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and other beneficial compounds that can reduce the risk of chronic diseases. For this reason, it is essential to include a variety of colors in your diet to reap the full spectrum of health benefits. Let's explore the science-backed health benefits of each color.
Red Fruits and Vegetables
Red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that has been linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease (1). Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives tomatoes, red bell peppers, and watermelon their red color. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, lycopene can reduce the risk of prostate cancer (2). Another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that lycopene can improve heart health by reducing LDL cholesterol levels (3).
Red fruits and vegetables also contain anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and can help improve circulation. Strawberries, raspberries, and cherries are examples of red fruits that are high in anthocyanins. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that tart cherries can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases (4).
Orange and Yellow Fruits and Vegetables
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are high in beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision, skin, and immune system function (5). Beta-carotene is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, mangoes, and oranges. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that high intake of beta-carotene can reduce the risk of lung cancer (6).
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables also contain other carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids are important for eye health and have been shown to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that high intake of lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration by up to 26% (7).
Green Fruits and Vegetables
Green fruits and vegetables are rich in chlorophyll, a plant pigment that has been linked to detoxifying the body and reducing the risk of cancer. Chlorophyll is found in leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collard greens. Chlorophyll has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and can also help improve digestion. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that high intake of chlorophyll can reduce the risk of colon cancer (8).
Green fruits and vegetables are also a good source of vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting and bone health. A study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that high intake of vitamin K can reduce the risk of fractures and improve bone health (9).
Blue and Purple Fruits and Vegetables
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables are rich in anthocyanins, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Anthocyanins are found in blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and purple cabbage. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that blueberries have the highest antioxidant activity of all fruits and vegetables tested (10).
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables also contain resveratrol. Resveratrol is a polyphenol that has been shown to have anti-aging properties and can reduce the risk of heart disease. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that resveratrol can reduce the risk of heart disease by improving lipid metabolism (11).
White Fruits and Vegetables
White fruits and vegetables may not be as colorful as other types, but they are still important for good health. They contain compounds such as allicin, quercetin, and kaempferol, which have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Examples of white fruits and vegetables include onions, garlic, cauliflower, and mushrooms.
White fruits and vegetables also contain vitamin C and potassium. Vitamin C is important for immune system function and collagen production, while potassium is essential for heart health and blood pressure regulation. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that high potassium intake can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease (12).
Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is essential for good health. Each color represents different nutrients and health benefits, so it's important to include a variety of colors in your diet. Red fruits and vegetables are high in lycopene and anthocyanins, which can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are high in beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health and reducing the risk of lung cancer. Green fruits and vegetables are rich in chlorophyll and vitamin K, which can detoxify the body and improve bone health. Blue and purple fruits and vegetables are high in anthocyanins and resveratrol, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties and can reduce the risk of heart disease. White fruits and vegetables contain allicin, quercetin, kaempferol, vitamin C, and potassium, which can reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
While the colors of fruits and vegetables are a good indicator of their health benefits, it's also important to consider the overall nutrient content of the food. For example, a white potato may not be as colorful as a sweet potato, but it still contains important nutrients like vitamin C and potassium.
When choosing fruits and vegetables, aim for a variety of colors and types to ensure that you are getting a wide range of nutrients. Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables can help you stay healthy, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and feel your best. So, next time you're at the grocery store, try to add a few different colors to your cart and enjoy the delicious health benefits.
(1) Rao, A. V., & Agarwal, S. (1999). Role of antioxidant lycopene in cancer and heart disease. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 18(6), 563-569.
(2) Giovannucci, E. (2002). A review of epidemiologic studies of tomatoes, lycopene, and prostate cancer. Experimental biology and medicine, 227(10), 852-859.
(3) Silaste, M. L., Alfthan, G., Aro, A., Kesäniemi, Y. A., & Hörkkö, S. (2007). Tomato juice decreases LDL cholesterol levels and increases LDL resistance to oxidation. British Journal of Nutrition, 98(06), 1251-1258.
(4) Kelley, D. S., Rasooly, R., Jacob, R. A., Kader, A. A., & Mackey, B. E. (2006). Consumption of Bing sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women. Journal of nutrition, 136(4), 981-986.
(5) Sommer, A., & Vyas, K. (2012). A global clinical view on vitamin A and carotenoids. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(5), 1204S-1206S.
(6) Tang, N. P., Li, H., & Qiu, X. J. (2009). A study of the relationship of β-carotene and retinol intake with lung cancer risk. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 13(1), 51-54.
(7) Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 Research Group. (2013). Lutein + zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids for age-related macular degeneration: the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) randomized clinical trial. JAMA, 309(19), 2005-2015.
(8) Yang, J., Liu, R. H., & Halim, L. (2013). Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of common edible wild plants. Journal of Food Science, 78(8), C1156-C1162.
(9) Booth, S. L., Broe,K. E., Peterson, J. W., Cheng, D. M., Dawson-Hughes, B., Gundberg, C. M., ... & Tucker, K. L. (2004). Associations between vitamin K biochemical measures and bone mineral density in men and women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 89(10), 4904-4909.
(10) Wu, X., Beecher, G. R., Holden, J. M., Haytowitz, D. B., Gebhardt, S. E., & Prior, R. L. (2004). Lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities of common foods in the United States. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 52(12), 4026-4037.
(11) Bhatt, J. K., Thomas, S., Nanjan, M. J., & Resveratrol (2012). An overview of pharmacological activities. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, 2(5), 123-129.
(12) D'Elia, L., Barba, G., Cappuccio, F. P., & Strazzullo, P. (2011). Potassium intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2(3), e000214.