The pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright, stylish colours contain a storehouse of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other compounds that can deliver major health benefits. Lots of colour on your plate is a feast for the eyes, and a smart way to stay healthy.
||Examples of beneficial compounds
||Examples of sources
||Anthocyanins, beta-carotene, lycopene
||Lycopene’s effects can protect against prostate cancer
||Tomatoes, papayas, pink grapefruit, watermelon
||Carotenoids like beta-carotene
||Beta-carotene plays an important role in maintaining good vision, healthy skin and a strong immune system
||Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash
||Strong antioxidant activity associated with prevention of aging, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers
||Blueberries, blackberries, purple bell peppers, eggplant
||Chlorophyll, carotenoids like lutein
||Lutein can help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration
||Spinach, asparagus, broccoli, green peas and watercress
||Potassium regulates the heart rate and blood pressure
||Bananas, garlic, onions, potatoes
Anthocyanins*, beta-carotene and lycopene are the most abundant pigments in red fruits and vegetables. According to the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) index, a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of different foods, red vegetables are the star performers! In fact, among the 20 fruits and vegetables with the highest antioxidant ratings, 7 are red: cranberries, strawberries, red grapes, raspberries, cherries, beets (beetroot) and red bell peppers.
There are numerous scientific tests which show that the lycopene present in tomatoes and tomato products may have protective effects against prostate cancer. One important fact is that lycopene is better absorbed by our bodies (and therefore more effective) when the tomatoes are cooked in recipes where fats are present. Of course you can go on enjoying fresh tomatoes, but don’t forget tomato soups and sauces, or the use of tomato paste.
Besides pigments, fruits and vegetables contain other phytochemicals* that are beneficial for health. These include ellagic acid, a compound that’s abundant in strawberries and raspberries, and may have antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties.
Red bell peppers, raspberries and tomatoes are also especially rich in Vitamin C.
The pigments known as carotenoids are primarily responsible for the attractive orange colour of fruits and vegetables like mangoes, carrots, squashes and sweet potatoes. These include the well-known beta-carotene, a key source of Vitamin A originating in plants, which plays an important role in building healthy bones and teeth, helps us see more clearly at night, promotes healthy skin development and assists in the proper functioning of our immune system.
Lemons, oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe and yellow bell peppers, on the other hand, are especially rich in Vitamin C – an antioxidant which assists our body’s natural defence functions, allows scar tissue to form in wounds and enhances absorption of iron from cereal products, legumes, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables and grains.
Of all fruit and vegetable colours, blue seems to be the one that delivers the most relief to our bodies from the stress of oxidation caused by free radicals.* According to the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) index, a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of different foods, foods in the blue-violet group destroy the most free radicals. Among fresh fruits, blueberries and blackberries contain the most powerful antioxidants, while prunes and raisins win hands down in the dried fruit category.
Anthocyanins are the pigments mainly responsible for the blue-violet colour of blueberries, blackberries, Concord grapes, red cabbages and the skin of eggplants. These highly therapeutic pigments are definitely colour-coded healthy! According to numerous studies, wild blueberries seem to contain the most active antioxidant properties, as well as powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. So it’s no surprise that they’re believed to have many benefits related to aging, cardiovascular diseases and prevention of various cancers.
Chlorophyll and lutein are the two main pigments present in fruits and vegetables such as avocado, kiwi fruit, broccoli and cabbage. Chlorophyll is well known as a breath freshener, but it seems to have significant antioxidant properties as well, which may help lessen the risk of some forms of cancer.
The yellow pigment lutein, on the other hand, is a member of the large family of carotenoids. Lutein is present in the retina or the eye, particularly in the macula or “yellow spot.” The lutein found in vegetables plays a crucial role for the health of our eyes. Scientific studies show that a high amount of lutein in our food helps reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) – the main cause of vision loss in older adults.
What’s more, dark green leafy vegetables like kale, rapini (broccoli rabe), arugula (rocket) and chard are rich in Vitamin K,* folic acid,* iron,* Vitamin A and Vitamin C.
Although the paler sorts of fruits and vegetables may not be particularly rich in antioxidant pigments, they’re still very nutritious and important for a healthy diet.
Bananas, potatoes and onions contain high levels of potassium, which plays a key role in transmitting nerve impulses and the flexing of our muscles. Potassium also regulates the heart rate and blood pressure. White cauliflower, in addition, has remarkable cancer-fighting effects, as do its relatives like broccoli and other members of the cabbage family. Another major health helper in this group is garlic, with its ability to enhance other food flavours reduces the need for extra salt. According to some studies, as well, garlic may have beneficial properties for the heart and may help fight cancerous cells.