Counting colors instead of calories may be an easier fix for not only weight control but overall wellness.
Behind the color: The blue/purple hues in foods are due primarily to their anthocyanin content. The darker the blue hue, the higher the phytochemical concentration. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that are particularly heart healthy and may help support healthy blood pressure.
The anthocyanins that give these fruits their distinctive colors may help ward off heart disease by preventing clot formation. They may also help lower risk of cancer.
The color’s richness is actually one sign that the food is ripe and ready to eat. Blueberries are considered to have the highest antioxidant activity of all foods.
Examples: Eggplant (especially the skin), blueberries, blackberries, prunes, plums, pomegranates
Behind the color: The natural plant pigment chlorophyll colors green fruits and vegetables. The green foods are rich in isothiocyanates, which induce enzymes in the liver that assist the body in removing potentially carcinogenic compounds. Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cabbage contain phytochemicals indoles and isothiocyanates, which may have anticancer properties.
Green vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, as well as carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids. Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy, and vitamin K is essential in blood clot formation. Diets high in potassium are associated with lowering blood pressure, and there is an inverse relationship between cruciferous vegetables and cancer, especially colon and bladder cancers.
In addition, sulforaphane, a phytochemical present in cruciferous vegetables, was found to detoxify cancer-causing chemicals before they do damage to the body.
Examples: Broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts
Behind the color: A variation of the green color category, these foods exhibit a richness in lutein. Lutein is particularly beneficial for eye health. There are lutein receptors in the macula of the eye, and lutein helps protect against age-related macular degeneration. For a somewhat surprising source, pistachio nuts contain lutein in the green skin around the nut.
Another reason to grab some yellow/green kiwifruit at the grocery store is its high amount of vitamin C.
Examples: Avocado, kiwifruit, spinach and other leafy greens, pistachios
Behind the color: Lycopene is the predominant pigment in reddish fruits and veggies. A carotenoid, lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that has been associated with a reduced risk of some cancers, especially prostate cancer, and protection against heart attacks. Look for tomato-based products for the most concentrated source of this phytochemical.
And although some nutrients, such as vitamin C, are diminished with the introduction of heat, the benefits of eating produce are not dependent on eating raw foods. In fact, cooking enhances the activity of some phytochemicals, such as lycopene. Obtaining optimal benefit from the nutrients in food, especially produce, depends on proper selection, storage, and cooking of the produce.
Cooked tomato sauces are associated with greater health benefits compared with the uncooked version because the heating process allows all carotenoids, including lycopene, to be more easily absorbed by the body.
In addition to vitamin C and folate, red fruits and vegetables are also sources of flavonoids, which reduce inflammation and have antioxidant properties. Cranberries, another red fruit (whose color is due to anthocyanins, not lycopene), are also a good source of tannins, which prevent bacteria from attaching to cells.
Examples: Tomatoes and tomato products, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, cranberries
Behind the color: The orange/yellow group represents beta-cryptoxanthin and vitamin C. The orange group foods are also rich in beta-carotene, which are particularly good antioxidants.”
These foods are commonly considered the eyesight foods because they contain vitamin A. Beta-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A, is a component of these foods as well. In addition, they may have high levels of vitamin C, and some contain omega-3 fatty acids. They also help with blood sugar regulation.
Beta-carotenes in some orange fruits and vegetables may also play a part in preventing cancer, particularly of the lung, esophagus, and stomach. They may also reduce the risk of heart disease and improve immune function.
Examples: Carrots, mangos, cantaloupe, winter squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, apricots