The World Health Organisation recommends that we consume a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, poor cognitive performance and other diet-related diseases, but did you know the different colours of all our foods contain phytonutrients, and often more than one, each with their own specific health benefits?
Phytonutrients are essentially natural chemical compounds, or plant compounds as ‘phyto’ means plant, that may offer many health benefits when consumed. For example, did you know that berries contain anthocyanins that have been studied for their potential brain and heart health benefits, or that cauliflower contains a compound known as sulforaphane which may help prevent cancer?
As a general guide, all phytonutrients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help support health but here’s a quick look at the specific colours and foods that make up our food rainbow, and a general overview as to some of their specific health benefits:
Red: Apples, beans, bell peppers, cherries, grapes, onions, plums, pomegranates, radish, rooibos tea, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon
Red phytonutrients include lycopene and anthocyanins, that may help protect against certain cancers (especially prostate cancer in men ), improve your skin, protect our eyesight and ward of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.
Orange: Apricots, cantaloupe melon, carrots, mango, orange, papaya, squash, sweet potato and turmeric
Orange foods are packed with carotenoids and may help support your immunity and eye health along with protecting against heart disease.
Yellow: Banana, bell peppers, corn, ginger, lemon, pineapple and squash
Similar to the orange foods in that they contain carotenoids, but specifically foods such as lemons may offer a liver-protective effect thanks to their antioxidants, and bromelain found in pineapples may be of specific benefit to our joints.
Green: Apples, artichokes, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cabbage, celery, cucumber, peas, green leafy veg, limes, olives and courgettes
The greens are loaded with chlorophyll, which is a powerful antioxidant, but also certain compounds including carotenoids, superoxide dismutase and glucosinolates, that help protect the very DNA of our cells
Blue/Purple/Black: Berries, cabbage, aubergine, figs, grapes, kale, plums and prunes
As well as anthocyanins, the blues contain resveratrol (yes, so does red wine!), and there is some evidence that this may help reduce the risk of conditions such as Alzheimer’s as well as have the potential to enhance our mood. As for blueberries, some research has started to show that they may help improve our gut microbiome.
White/Tan/Brown: Cauliflower, coconut, coffee, dates, garlic, ginger, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, onions, pears and seeds
Ok, so white or brown isn’t in the rainbow but don’t rule these foods out. Mushrooms, for example, contain flavones and isoflavones and are proving to be excellent immune-boosters and may even play a key role in cancer protection
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of where some of the colours can easily come from everyday foods. In fact, a healthier approach to eating is perhaps in counting colours rather than calories?
Our plates here in the UK are often so beige, so let’s brighten them up!