The colorful fruits and vegetables seen on the shelves of the grocery store should be included in the diet for good health. The vibrant colors seen on these fruits and vegetables are due to phytochemicals present in them, which are natural bioactive compounds. The more vibrantly colored the fruits are, the more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber they are known to contain.
Based on the food pyramid, it is recommended that people should eat up to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000, diets that include 400-600 grams of fruits and vegetables every day are associated with a lowered risk of lung cancer and other aero-digestive epithelial cancers. They contain carotenoids that have antioxidant and antitumor effects.
A dietitian and lifestyle program coordinator at the Rush University Prevention Center, Jennifer Ventrelle, recommends that at least three-quarters of one’s plate should be filled with vegetables at lunch and dinner. For snacks in between meals, one should eat fresh fruits to fulfill any sweet cravings.
Different colors of fruits and vegetables have different health benefits. So, one should eat a mix of many colors, if not all colors.
- Red fruits and vegetables contain vitamins A and C, potassium, and antioxidants such as lycopene. These include tomatoes, cranberries, papaya, guava, grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries, and red beans. Foods rich in lycopene have been associated with a reduced risk of heart attacks and cancer. Lycopene is found in a form easily absorbable by the body like in cooked tomato sauce.
- Yellow or orange fruits and vegetables contain alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. These nutrients are converted into vitamin A inside the human body. Vitamin C and potassium are also available in such foods. Examples include peaches, carrots, pineapple, squash, mangos, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and apricots. These foods help improve vision, boost the immune system, and can lower the risk of stomach, esophagus, and lung cancer.
- White fruits and vegetables contain allicins that maintain cell integrity and reduce cancer risk. Examples include mushrooms, brown pears, bananas, white nectarines and peaches, garlic, white potatoes, onions, and turnips. These foods are good for the heart and help keep cholesterol levels in check.
- Green fruits and vegetables contain rich quantities of vitamin K, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, contain isothiocyanates and indoles, which are phytochemicals that protect the heart. Other green foods include Brussel sprouts, spinach, collards, kale, bok choy, green apples, grapes, and pears. They help maintain strong bones and teeth, and good vision.
- Blue or purple fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanin, which is an antioxidant. It has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, and reduce the pain of arthritis. They maintain the health of the urinary tract, improve memory function, and encourage healthy aging. Such foods include raisins, cranberries, purple grapes, eggplant, prunes, and plums.
While fruits and colorful vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, people should remember that they also have calories. Raisins and cherries should be eaten in moderation. Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, should also be eaten in moderation. A colorful plate is a healthy plate!
Heber, D. (2000). Colorful cancer prevention: α-carotene, lycopene, and lung cancer. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 72(4), 901-902.
Walsh, J. (2001). Colorful diet helps keep cancer at bay: Fruits and vegetables are key. Environmental Nutrition, 24(6), 1-2.
https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/eat-colorful-diet (accessed on 2/9/2015)
http://www.mcancer.org/living-with-cancer/mind-body-side-effects/nutrition/eating-rainbows (accessed on 2/9/2015)
http://extension.psu.edu/lackawanna/news/2011/include-colorful-foods-on-you-plate-for-good-health (accessed on 2/9/2015)
Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:
Cooke, L. (2007). The importance of exposure for healthy eating in childhood: a review. Journal of human nutrition and dietetics, 20(4), 294-301.
Conner, M., Norman, P., & Bell, R. (2002). The theory of planned behavior and healthy eating. Health psychology, 21(2), 194.
Guenther, P. M., Reedy, J., Krebs-Smith, S. M., & Reeve, B. B. (2008). Evaluation of the healthy eating index-2005. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(11), 1854-1864.
Falk, L. W., Sobal, J., Bisogni, C. A., Connors, M., & Devine, C. M. (2001). Managing healthy eating: definitions, classifications, and strategies. Health education & behavior, 28(4), 425-439.