Fruit and vegetables come in a beautiful variety of colours – the fresher they are, the brighter they appear.
Though many people are aware that our bodies need at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, what they don’t know is that the number of colours we eat is just as important.
Colourful fruit and vegetables are not just pretty to look at – their pigments are created by unique chemicals, known as a phytonutrients, with their own special disease-fighting abilities.
When we eat many different colours, our bodies receive a wide variety of nutrients helping with the fight against poor heath and making a brighter, happier you.
The pigmentation found in the red group of fruit and vegetables is often caused by a phytonutrient known as lycopene.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that may protect your body against:
- Cancers of the prostate, pancreas and stomach
- Heart attacks and strokes
Tomatoes (and tomato products) contain high concentrations of lycopene and are a very versatile food – they can be used in salads, curries and pasta sauces. Cherry tomatoes are delicious as a snack – try serving them with a creamy dip (especially for fussy eaters).
As an added benefit, red fruit and vegetables often contain high concentrations of vitamin C as well, which boosts the immune system and decreases the effect of stress on the body.
Orange & Yellow
The orange and yellow pigmentations found in fresh fruit and vegetables are created by a group of phytonutrients called carotenoids.
The two main carotenoids are beta-carotene and lutein, which can be found in orange sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut and (because the name is the clue) carrots.
The body absorbs and converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which it then uses to keep the mucous membranes, eyes and skin functioning well.
But it doesn’t end there, carotenoids may help to prevent:
- Age-related vision loss
- Aging of the skin (wrinkles and dark spots)
- Cancers of the skin and eyes
Naturally yellow and orange foods also commonly contain potassium and our old friend, vitamin C, which may help your muscles to function well and your kidneys to regulate fluid balance and blood pressure.
Green fruit and vegetables receive their pigmentation from the chemical known as Chlorophyll.
Chlorophyll is found abundantly in all naturally green foods, such as kale, spinach, herbs, broccoli, artichokes, kiwis and cucumbers. The golden rule is: the greener, the better.
Chlorophyll may help to prevent:
- High blood pressure
- Certain types of cancer
Green fruit and vegetables often also contain calcium, folate, iron and vitamin C. These nutrients have the added benefit of:
- Improving bone health
- Increasing immunity
- Preventing anaemia
Blue & Purple
The plant pigment anthocyanin is responsible for the blue and purple tones found in fruits and vegetables.
Anthocyanin can be found in various berries, plums, red grapes, beetroot, eggplant, purple cabbage, purple potatoes and purple carrots, to name a few.
These fruits and vegetables often contain high amounts of vitamin C, fibre and other anti-oxidants.
Eating naturally blue and purple foods may prevent:
- Diabetes and insulin resistance
- Heart disease
- Age-related decline in brain function
White / Colourless
White fruit and vegetables often contain water-soluble pigments known as anthoxanthins (flavones and flavanols).
Anthoxanthins may help to prevent:
- Cancer (especially leukaemia, colon, breast, and prostate)
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Viral, bacterial and fungal infections
Examples of naturally white foods include cauliflower, potatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, cucumber and the white parts of celery.
Practical Tips on “Eating Your Rainbow”
- Include at least 2 – 3 different colours at each meal.
- Create a rainbow fruit salad as a snack or as a topping for your breakfast oats, porridge or smoothie bowl.
- Include a colourful side-salad with meals.
- Choose different coloured fruits and vegetables as snacks in between meals.
- Create fresh juices with your favourite fruit and vegetables – using these juices as a supplement to a balanced diet.
- Drink different coloured fresh veggie juices on different week days – to vary the nutrients you’re getting.
- Create a “Rainbow Poster” for your kids and let them place stickers on each colour they have eaten.
- Ghadage, S. R., Mane, K. A., Agrawal, R. S., & Pawar, V. N. (2019). Tomato lycopene: Potential health benefits.
- Eggersdorfer, M., & Wyss, A. (2018). Carotenoids in human nutrition and health. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, 652, 18-26.
- Burri, B. J. (1997). Beta-carotene and human health: a review of current research. Nutrition Research, 17(3), 547-580.
- İnanç, A. L. (2011). Chlorophyll: Structural Properties, Health Benefits and Its Occurrence in Virgin Olive Oils. Academic Food Journal/Akademik GIDA.
- Tsuda, T. (2012). Dietary anthocyanin‐rich plants: biochemical basis and recent progress in health benefits studies. Molecular nutrition & food research, 56(1), 159-170.
- Jiang, N., Doseff, A. I., & Grotewold, E. (2016). Flavones: from biosynthesis to health benefits. Plants, 5(2), 27.
Written by Vicki Fischer, Registered Dietician
Photography by www.neverbeforemedia.co.za