You’ve heard about the need to eat a varied diet. Naturally this means eating a good variety of foods, including meat, vegetables, fruit, carbohydrates and so on, but did you know it also applies to the range of colours you have on your plate? Vegetables and fruits come in all the colours of the rainbow, and the colours are not there just because it looks appetising.
The colours in fruit and vegetables stem in part from phytonutrients. Phytonutrients – or phytochemicals – are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plant foods that help protect the plant from pests and harsh environments. Different phytonutrients cause different colourations, so eating a variety of colours can help your body get as many phytonutrients. Here’s what the different colours mean for your body:
Red colouration is caused by lycopene, which is an antioxidant. Helping to protect your cells from damage, lycopene may also play a factor in preventing cancer – in particular cancer of the prostate. Some good sources of lycopene include tomatoes, red apples, cranberries, red bell peppers and red grapes. Try adding cherry tomatoes to your lunch, alternatively snack on an apple or handful of grapes.
Orange and Yellow
Plant foods in these colours are high in carotenoids like alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. When consumed your body converts the carotenoids to vitamin A, vital for eye health and keeping hormones balanced. Plus, citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C, which boosts your immune system and aids in a range of bodily processes. Great sources of carotenoids include: mangoes, orange and yellow peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, lemons, papaya and – naturally, oranges.
The green pigment we often associate with vegetables actually comes from chlorophyll, the chemical plants use to make energy from sunlight. Although limited in its nutritional value on its own, green vegetables are filled with other beneficial nutrients like sulforaphane and lutein. Both these phytonutrients aid in preventing cancer, and lutein is also good for vitamin A. Basically any green vegetable or fruit will give you the necessities, but cucumbers, celery, water spinach and bok choy are probably the easiest foods to find and incorporate into your daily diet.
Blue and Purple
The rich blues and purples in food are a by-product of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant. Studies show have shown that antioxidants may have a role in keeping cells healthy and damage-free, but the scientific jury is still debating whether this is directly caused by the antioxidants or whether something else in the food is having this effect; either way, blue and purple foods are still good for you and healthy! Some great sources of anthocyanins include eggplant, red cabbage, purple grapes, beet root and blackberries.
White and Beige
Though they are blander in colour compared to the vibrant hues of their coloured cousins, fruits and vegetables in these colours have a host of great benefits – and they still taste great! Potatoes, for example, are a good source of vitamin C and are full of potassium. Plus, their skins are tasty and fibre filled. Another great example is garlic. Known for the earthy spice it brings to a dish, garlic also contains vitamins B6 and C as well as calcium, iron and magnesium. Some other good options include bananas, turnips, onions and pears.
Hopefully we’ve helped you see that a plate filled with a rainbow of colours is not only attractive to the eye but also fantastic for your health. If you’re in the Klang Valley, check out Organic4u for some colourful organic veggies or if you’re in Singapore, visit Quan Fa Organic Farm.