Fruit and vegetables fall into five different colour categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green and white/brown. Each colour carries its own set of unique disease fighting chemicals called phytochemicals. It is these phytochemicals that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colour and of course some of their healthy properties.
Following is a rundown of fruits and vegetables sorted by colour, along with the phytonutrients they contain, and which foods you’ll find them in.
What’s in a colour?
Red fruits and vegetables are coloured by a natural plant pigment called lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce the risk of cancer and keep our heart healthy.
Found in: strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, red onions
The plant pigment anthocyanin is what gives blue/purple fruits and vegetables their distinctive colour. Anthocyanin also has antioxidant properties that protect cells from damage, believed to delay cellular aging. These powerful antioxidants reduce the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease by helping the heart by blocking the formation of blood clots.
Found in: blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, red grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, purple cabbage
Carotenoids give this group their vibrant colour. A well-known carotenoid called Betacarotene is found in sweet potatoes, pumpkins and carrots. It is converted to vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes. Another carotenoid called lutein is stored in the eye and has been found to prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.
Found in: carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, oranges, bananas, pineapple, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, squash, peaches, rockmelon, corn
These foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals like sulforaphane, isocyanate, and indoles, which inhibit the action of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are also excellent sources of folate.
Found in: spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, greens, green tea, green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil)
White fruits and vegetables contain a range of health-promoting phytochemicals such as allicin (found in garlic) which is known for its antiviral and antibacterial and anti-tumour properties. Some members of the white group, such as bananas and potatoes, are also a good source of potassium.
Found in: onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms
Tips for eating a rainbow
Reaching a total of 4 1/2 cups of colorful fruits and vegetable a day is the goal for a powerful plate.
Here are some ways to make it happen:
Servings are not that big. 1/2 cup of chopped raw vegetables or fruit makes one serving. Leafy greens take up more space, so 1 cup chopped counts as a serving. 1/2 cup of dried fruit equals one serving.
Think in twos. Try to eat two servings in the morning, two in the afternoon, and two at night.
Snacks count, too. Feeling hungry between meals? Munch on a piece of fruit or grab some sliced raw vegetables to go.
When shopping, look at your cart. If you find most of your choices are the same one or two colors, swap out a few to increase the colors — and phytonutrients — in your cart.
Dine out colourfully. Start out with a cup of vegetable soup. Choose a spinach salad and see if they can add extra vegetables. Top off your meal with fresh fruit for dessert and a soothing cup of green tea.
Look local. Farmers markets, co-ops, buying clubs, and community supported farms are usually great sources of fresh produce. Ask a farmer for fresh ideas on how to prepare fruits and vegetables that are new to you.
Frozen produce is okay too. It is best to eat in season, but since seasonal produce may be limited, frozen fruits and vegetables count and are just as nutritious as fresh.
Get kids involved! Encourage kids to create a rainbow on their plate or count the colours in your shopping trolley.
Remember, colour in fruits and veggies is king, and the greater variety the better.
My Chef main meals are all served with a side of seasonal vegetables.