Fruits and vegetables come in a rainbow of colors, and any nutritionist will tell you that colorful plates are the best ones for your health. That’s part of the reason why chefs aim to create visually appealing dishes with shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. But what’s responsible for the bright hues of our favorite fruits and veggies? Take red, for example – foods like cherries, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon certainly have health benefits, but why? Here’s what you need to know.
According to the American Cancer Society, phytochemicals are compounds that are made exclusively by plants. Some are responsible for the color of these foods, while others contribute to smell and other properties. There are thousands of different phytochemicals that have been identified, but not all of them have been closely studied. The ones that have, however, like beta carotene, vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin E, are very beneficial to human health.
Each fruit and vegetable has different phytochemicals, which is why it’s important to eat a variety of them to make sure that you’re getting all of the phytochemicals your body needs. Eating fruits and veggies of different colors is an easy way to make sure you’re getting some of each type.
Lycopene and anthocyanins
Deep red and bright pink fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals called lycopene and anthocyanins, which have different properties.
- Lycopene: These phytochemicals are found in foods like tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. It’s best known for helping to reduce the risk of cancer – particularly prostate cancer. Lycopene can also help rid the body of damaging free radicals and protect against lung and heart disease.
- Anthocyanins: Found in foods like strawberries, raspberries and beets, anthocyanins act as powerful antioxidants that fight off free radicals and help protect cells from damage. They’ve also been linked to heart health, according to the North Dakota State University Extension Service.
Best foods to get them from
The National Cancer Institute recommends eating at least one serving of red or pink fruits or vegetables every day. According to NDSU, you can get the most lycopene by eating foods with cooked fruits or veggies, like tomatoes, that include a little bit of fat. Spaghetti sauce, for example, has lycopene that is easier to absorb than raw tomatoes alone. Tomato juice, tomato paste and tomato soup are all great sources.
If you're looking to get more anthocyanins, go with red berries, red cabbage, red apples, red onions, beets and red beans.
With a good amount of red and pink fruits and vegetables in your diet, you can get all the nutritional benefits your body needs to stay healthy and strong.