Fresh, appealing fruits and vegetables come in an array of colors from every part of the color wheel. In addition to making your table brighter and making fruits and veggies more desirable, these bright colors, from red to green, purple to yellow, also make them good for you. Different colors are caused by varying plant pigments that add nutritive value; each color family has specific health benefits. The deeper the coloring, the more effective the nutrient.
Red Fruits & Vegetables
Many of the more popular and widely available fruits and vegetables, like apples, tomatoes and many berries, are colored red. This red coloring comes from the plant pigments, either lycopene or anthocyanins. Lycopene, which colors, among others, tomatoes and watermelon, is most touted for its cancer-fighting properties — especially prostate cancer in men. Anthocyanins provide antioxidants, which protect cells and also guard against heart damage, and are particularly effective against colon cancer. They are found in many red berries.
Orange/Yellow Fruits & Vegetables
Orange- and yellow-toned fruits and veggies — encompassing most citrus fruits, many varieties of squash, peaches, carrots, and corn, among others — are colored by the plant pigments carotenoids. Orange-toned fruits and veggies contain beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A and is particularly helpful in maintaining visual health and healthy mucous membranes. Yellow-toned examples, including most citrus fruits, contain less vitamin A but more vitamin C — another antioxidant — and the B vitamin folate.
Blue/Purple Fruits & Vegetables
Blue and purple fruits and veggies are colored by the plant pigments anthocyanins, also found in some red-toned fruit. These cancer-fighting antioxidants protect against cancer, stroke, and heart disease; reduce free radical damage; and improve urinary tract health and memory.
Green Fruits & Vegetables
Green fruits and veggies are colored by chlorophyll, the same pigment that colors most inedible leaves. Dark greens like spinach, green peppers and cucumbers, contain lutein, which is important for vision health. Leafier greens tend to contain folate; more yellow-toned green veggies also contain the carotenoids present in yellow vegetables. Green veggies also contain the cancer-fighting phytochemicals sulforaphane and indoles.
White Fruits & Vegetables
White fruits and vegetables, like potatoes, bananas, garlic, and onions, are colored by the plant pigment anthoxanthin. Anthoxanthins are known for the healthy chemical allicin, which lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as being anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral, promoting overall health. Some members of this group are also high in potassium.
References and ResourcesNorth Dakota State University: What Color Is Your Food?
North Dakota State University: Healthy Reasons to Eat a Rainbow of Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
Science Daily: Compounds That Color Fruits And Veggies May Protect Against Colon Cancer
Disabled World: Color Wheel of Fruits & Vegetables