These words seem to be everywhere these days, especially with regards to fruits and vegetables. Of course, fruits and vegetables are where we see the greatest diversity of color in our food. With such an eye-catching spectacle, it is amazing that we don’t eat them as often as we should. Numerous studies show that Americans are nutrient and phytonutrient deficient, eating as few as 1-3 servings of fruits and vegetables a day compared to the 5-7 we ought to be taking in.
From my own personal experience as a nanny, I have encountered childrenwho hate fruit! It boggles my mind still that something so delicious, and good for you, could be replaced by artificial, sugary snacks. I may have a sweet tooth but boy do I love fruit!
With that said, here is the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and the health benefits of each color:
These fruits and vegetables contain lycopene, a carotenoid that studies have shown to help prevent/reduce the chances of getting cancer, particularly prostate cancer. Another interesting factoid: cooking tomatoes, ranked second in the amount of lycopene present (after the Southeast Asian fruit, gac), actually increases the bioavailability of lycopene (Wikipedia: Lycopene). (As great as the news is, however, the latest American Council on ExerciseFitness Journal reports that a loophole in the USDA’s regulations helped get pizza classified as a serving of vegetables earlier this year, in the same way that they moved ketchup into that category in the 1980’s. I don’t know about you, but while they may originate from the all-might tomato, neither are vegetables.)
Red foods also contain capsiacin. Like spicy food? This is the nutrient for you. Chili peppers help stave off hunger and may even burn calories. Strangely, though it creates a burning sensation when eaten, capsiacin also seems to alleviate pain.
Resveratrol is also found in red foods, such as grapes. (Remember back in March when I said I was giving some grape-extract supplements a try? They were decent, but I just could not justify the expense. Best eat the real deal!) This nutrient helps reduce/prevent inflammation in the body. Interestingly enough, however, “researcher Dipak K Das, PhD, ScD, MD, revealed more than 100 counts of falsification and fabrication of data, thus casting doubt on all his reservatrol research…the effects of resveratrol are [still] controversial” (ACE Fitness Journal, May 2012, 68). The article goes on to state that while red wine seems to have powerful antioxident polyphenols (resveratrol included) and is known for increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, there have been too few clinical trials to verify its other claims, including hormone changes in menopausal women. It warns not to expect anti-aging miracles from supplements also (that’s what I concluded as well!), and suggests eating resveratrol-rich whole foods: grapes, cranberries, blueberries, and (cool!) peanuts.
These foods contain curcumin, found in turmeric, an antioxidant that may help counter the negative effects of high-fat foods on the body; beta-cryptoxanthin, which plays vital roles vision, bone and cell growth; alpha-carotene, an antiager that converts vitamin A and boosts immunity; and hesperidin and naringenin, flavanoids that ward off inflammation and help protect blood vessels from the damages of a poor diet. In animal studies, hesperidin also helped reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and decreased bone density loss. Naringenin, the prominent flavenone in grapefruit, scavenges for free radicals and modulates the immune system.
One of my personal favorite colors, as I love pineapple for its sweetness, flavor, and ability to tenderize foods, yellow fruits and vegetables contain bromelain (incidentally found in pineapple), an enzyme that may ease indigestion and asthma, as well as may inhibit both tumor growth and blood clotting. Limonoids (bet you cannot guess where they are found…yes, that’s right: citrus!) are under investigation for a wide variety of applications, including antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, antineoplastic, and antimalarial functions (Wikipedia: Limonoid). They also may protect against breast, skin, and stomach cancers.
Lutein, a xanthophyll found in green leafy vegetables, animal fats and egg yokes, is another of the 600 carotenoids found in nature. It, along with its isomer, zeaxanthin (which gives pigment to saffron, wolfberries, corn, and bell peppers), keep eyes strong, protecting the retina, reducing the risks of cataracts and other age-related macular degeneration.
Probably everyone’s least favorite color, green foods provide a whole slew of health benefits. Apigenin and luteolin protect the brain and may fight against neurological disordered like Alzheimer’s disease; whereas isothiocyanates purge potential carcinogens from the body. (I guess your mother was right: eat more brussel sprouts–yuck! Sorry, mom!) Catechins, found in my personal favorite drink, green tea, may lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
But the green color we all despised as a child comes from chlorophyll, found in everything green. Chlorophyll may decrease the risk, and help prevent, liver cancer. Some great sources are leeks, watercress, and parsley.
When I say everything, I mean everything. Including the beloved pistachio nut. Full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals (such as carotenes, iron, and oleic acid), and antioxidents, the May issue of ACE’s Fitness Journal cites that pistachios promote heart health and reduce the risk of diabetes. They have a great “crunch punch” too, and, as with other plant-based foods, there is no cholesterol!
This is my personal favorite color, and not just because I love blueberries. A recent article, The Power of Purple Produce, published by IDEA Health and Fitness Association, states that people who consume blue and purple foods ate more fruit and had an overall healthier diet than those who did not. They also had lower waist circumference and body mass index (BMI), both indicators of heart-health risk.
Indoles, found in purple cabbage, may slow the metabolism of carcinogens. Ellagic acid, found in my beloved berries, is a phytochemical that may lessen the effect of estrogen in breast cancer development. Eggplant, a good source for anthocyanins, improve brain function and balance, and may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Whatever the color, do as Hippocrates (460-377 BC) suggests:
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
And, if you are not quite sure how to do this, take a tip from Steve Ritz and his students in the south Bronx. They grew more than 20,000 pounds of vegetables using vertical gardening boxes and “green walls” as part of his “Green Bronx Machine” last year. “In a city whose dearest commodities are land, soil, and water, this remarkable feat is even more special, says Ritz, in that it also ‘grows citizens, graduates, and an engaged healthy community.'”
For recipes associated with this information (as well as the inspiration for this post), see Whole Living Magazine‘s website here.