Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “eat the rainbow” as a bit of encouragement to mix up the colors that comprise your dinner plate, but do you know why there’s such an emphasis placed on colorful food?
Let’s dive into the most common colors found in fruits and vegetables, and dissect what those colors might mean, nutritionally.
Each color found in produce reflects a unique photochemical, and accompanying set of nutrients that can have big time positive impacts on your health. In this blog, we’ll go into greater detail about what you can learn about a food from its color, but always remember: vitamin and mineral levels can vary tremendously across fruits and veggies, regardless of whether two of them are the same color.
Among the most commonly consumed fruit colors, red produce is a mainstay in the western diet.
Red fruits and veggies:
Main phytonutrient in red produce:
The main phytonutrient found in red fruits and vegetables is called lycopene. It possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and may also benefit heart health while also reducing sun-related damage to the skin.
Red produce tends to also be a solid source of folate, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, each vitally important for a range of bodily functions. These vitamins and minerals are essential for cell growth, the immune system, skin health, and may even help lower the risk of some cancers.
But a diet of only red produce wouldn’t be a particularly exciting – or healthful – one. You need different colored fruits and vegetables to strike a nutritional balance, and that includes produce that’s coral- or yellow-colored.
Yellow/coral fruits and veggies:
Main phytonutrients in coral/yellow produce:
carotenoids (like beta carotene, alpha carotene, and beta cryptoxanthin), all belonging to the vitamin A family
Orange and coral (which we’ll concede is rather orange) fruits and veggies are high in carotenoids, a type of A vitamin that possess benefits like the reduction of inflammation and antioxidant properties. They also benefit heart and eye health.
Orange and yellow produce also tends to be high in fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin C, which means they help with things like cell growth, immune function, and skin health. They may also help lower the risk of some cancers.
Of course, when you think of “health food,” the color green likely factors prominently in that visual. Well, you’re not entirely wrong if that’s where your mind jumps!
Green fruits and veggies:
The main phytonutrients in green produce depend on the type:
Leafy greens contain chlorophyll and carotenoids
Cruciferous greens (e.g., broccoli, cabbage) contain indoles, isothiocyanates, and glucosinolates
With all these phytonutrients present across a range of green fruits and veggies, it’s hard to go wrong when choosing among them. Chlorophyll and carotenoids possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and may help out heart health and reduce sun damage to our skin. Greens tend to also pack in plenty of fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin A – which are essential for things like cell growth, our immune systems, and healthy skin. And greens have been shown to lower the risk of certain cancers, particularly cruciferous ones like broccoli and cabbage.
Some colors are more common than others in the world of produce. But if you are really interested in reconfiguring your diet around the rainbow, in order to eat colors both common and rarer, you might have to get a little creative. Blue, for instance, doesn’t really exist in the world of produce, but purple does.
Purple fruits and veggies:
Main phytonutrients in purple produce:
Blue-ish and purple fruits and vegetables are generally loaded with anthocyanins, which boast strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, meaning they’re great for heart health, brain function, and lower the risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Purple produce also is high in fiber, manganese, potassium, plus vitamins B6, C, and K1.
The main phytonutrients in these foods are anthocyanins, which are responsible for their blue and purple colors.
These nutrients offer strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which may benefit heart health, lower the risk of neurological disorders, improve brain function, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
In addition to these powerful phytonutrients, blue and purple fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and vitamin K1.
Overall, they are a great source of nutrition and can help keep your body healthy and functioning optimally.
Okay, so maybe we’ve already mentioned red. But beets sort of fall into their own camp, color-wise (Plus, we never miss a chance to plug our beet reds smoothie!)
Fruits and veggies that fall into this distinct red category:
Main phytonutrients in this sort of produce:
Darker red fruits and vegetables are packed with phytonutrients called betalains. These offer strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which may benefit heart health, while also lowering the risk of neurological disorders and improving brain function. Plus, research suggests they also can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Then there’s the fiber, folate, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and vitamin B6 found in these fruits and veggies, too.
White or beige fruits and veggies don’t get the respect they deserve. People have a tendency to dismiss them as not being as nutritious as their more brightly colored counterparts. Allow us to sing their praises!
White and brown fruits and veggies:
Main phytonutrients in white and brown produce:
anthoxanthins (flavonols, flavones), allicin
The fruits and veggies listed above are all great sources of fiber, and they also contain folate, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and vitamin B6, while anthoxanthins and allicin reduce inflammation and reduce oxidative stress, while potentially lowering risk of colon and other cancers.
The “rainbow diet,” or “eating the rainbow” simply refers to eating as wide a range of foods by color as possible. While making an effort to eat more fruits and veggies is always commendable, if you’re only upping your produce intake via one or two varieties, you’re missing out on the full range of nutrients and benefits you could be enjoying.
No matter your health goals – reducing inflammation, improving your digestion, lowering your risk of certain diseases – you’ll be doing yourself a favor by mixing up the fruits and veggies. Your body simply functions best when it’s provided a full array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Don’t worry, we aren’t going to leave you hanging without any suggestions for how to add the full rainbow to your diet. Here are just a handful of our favorite ways to keep fruits and veggies fun and varied in our diets:
Whip up a big salad for lunch with greens, cherry tomatoes, radishes, and whatever other colorful veggies you’ve got on hand.
Get creative with the wok – add beets, carrots, or sweet potatoes to your dinner stir-fry.
For the sneakers, munch on vegetables like peppers with hummus throughout the day.
Roast some cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, for a simple and tasty side dish.
Reach for a fruit salad for dessert, composed of fresh berries, grapes, and diced mangoes.