How to Eat Well by Color

Find out the health benefits of including colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet.

In the last couple of decades, scientists have discovered more reasons (beyond vitamins and fiber) to pack your diet with fruits and vegetables: phytochemicals. All plants contain these compounds, which protect them from a variety of dangers—from harmful UV rays to predatory pests. We take in phytochemicals when we eat fruits and vegetables and, as it turns out, they protect us too. Some act as antioxidants, mopping up unstable “free radical” molecules that can damage cells and lead to the development of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other health issues. Others work by boosting the immune system.

What’s fascinating is that nature seems to have a way of highlighting these beneficial nutrients by giving them bright colors that allow you to spot them at a glance. For example, anthocyanins make blueberries blue and may help to keep your mind sharp. Tomatoes get their ruby hue from lycopene, a phytochemical that may help to prevent prostate cancer. To get the maximum disease-fighting power that phytochemicals can provide, choose foods that represent all colors of the rainbow. The USDA suggests paying particular attention to orange and red (5 1/2 cups per week) and dark green (1 1/2 cups per week) produce, both good sources of vitamin A and other important nutrients.

EatingWell Editors

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Red Fruits & Vegetables

1. Red

Red foods, such as tomatoes and watermelon, contain lycopene, a phytochemical that may help protect against prostate and breast cancers.

Healthy Red Fruits & Vegetables:
Guava
Pink Grapefruit
Red Peppers
Tomatoes
Watermelon


Orange Fruits & Vegetables

2. Orange

Alpha and beta carotene make foods like carrots and sweet potatoes so brilliantly orange. The body converts these compounds into the active form of vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes, bones and immune system healthy. These phytochemicals also operate as antioxidants, sweeping up disease-promoting free radicals.

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Healthy Orange Fruits & Vegetables:
Apricots
Cantaloupe
Carrots
Mango
Oranges
Papaya
Pumpkin
Sweet Potatoes
Tangerines
Winter Squash


Yellow & Green, Part 1 (Leafy Greens)

3. Yellow & Green, Part 1 (Leafy Greens)

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Healthy Yellow and Green Fruits & Vegetables:
Artichoke
Corn
Lettuce
Summer Squash
Wax beans
Arugula
Chard
Collards
Mustard Greens
Turnip Greens

Many yellow and green vegetables are good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that accumulate in the eyes and help prevent age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older people. Leafy greens are also rich in beta carotene.


Green, Part 2 (Cruciferous)

4. Green, Part 2 (Cruciferous)

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, provide compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates, which may help prevent cancer by amping up the production of enzymes that clear toxins from the body.

Healthy Green Vegetables:
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Cauliflower
Green Cabbage
Kale


Blue & Purple/Deep Red

5. Blue & Purple/Deep Red

Healthy Blue and Purple/Deep Red Fruits & Vegetables:
Blackberries
Blueberries
Eggplant
Plums
Cranberries
Grapes
Radishes (red)
Raspberries
Strawberries

Blue, purple and deep-red fruits and vegetables are full of anthocyanins and proanthocyanins, antioxidants associated with keeping the heart healthy and the brain functioning optimally.