Nutrition by color: Why eat the rainbow
I like to think of food in terms of what we’re getting when we eat that food, rather than what we’re avoiding, and one of the easiest ways to make sure we’re getting the molecules we need to thrive is to eat the rainbow. This is because different phytochemicals (cell protecting compounds) in plants give them their distinct colors (as well as smells and tastes). Not only does this make food more beautiful and satisfying, but the phytochemicals play unique roles in the human body for disease prevention, so it’s wise to take in as many of them as possible. Here’s a list of some of the the most important phytochemicals to eat, and the colors that identify them:
Red: Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory¹, great for cardiovascular health²
Examples: red apples, beets, red cabbage, cherries, cranberries, pink grapefruit, red grapes, red peppers, pomegranates, red potatoes, radishes, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon.
Yellow/Orange: beta-carotene (a precursor for Vitamin A), important for immune function and vision³
Examples: Yellow apples, apricots, butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pears, yellow peppers, persimmons, pineapple, pumpkin, rutabagas, yellow summer or winter squash, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yellow tomatoes, yellow watermelon, lemons
Note: Curcumin, which gives turmeric root its yellow color, is a superstar anti-inflammatory that protects against heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer, as well as depression, arthritis and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)⁴. Pro tip: add black pepper to recipes including curcumin (like our Turmeric Carrot Soup below) to increase curcumin absorption by 2000%⁵.
Green: chlorophyll, a detoxifying and cancer-fighting compound⁶ ⁷ ⁸, and lutein, great for eye health.⁹
Examples: Green apples, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, kale, green beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, green cabbage, cucumbers, green grapes, honeydew melon, kiwi, lettuce, limes, green onions, peas, green pepper, spinach, zucchini, pistachios, bok choy
Blue / purple: anthocyanin, a potent antioxidant and antimicrobial, anti-obesity, anti-diabetic¹⁰
Examples: Blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, figs, plums, prunes, purple grapes, purple cabbage
White: anthoxanthins, antioxidants that improve brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease¹¹ and allicin, great for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and preventing heart disease¹².
Examples: Bananas, cauliflower, garlic, ginger, jicama, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, turnips
Note: Isothiocyanates, found in cruciferous vegetables of all colors, are powerful anticarcinogens that prevent tumor growth¹³
Examples: broccoli, watercress, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Japanese radish, turnips, rutabagas, cauliflower
The beauty of eating the rainbow, of course, is that you don’t need to remember all these hard-to-pronounce compounds or their effects. Quite literally, you can peruse the farmer’s market or produce aisle and think to yourself, I haven’t had any purple this week, and pick up some blueberries or cabbage to remedy that situation. Better yet, build yourself a beautiful crudite platter to go with our beet hummus recipe below. Happy eating!
Farmer’s Market Crudite with Garlic Beet Hummus
Garlic Beet Hummus
¼ cup maple syrup
1 small red beet
4 garlic cloves
1 can of chickpeas
½ cup tahini
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
Kosher Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Baby bell peppers
1. To a food processor, add the drained chickpeas, chopped beet, garlic cloves, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Puree until smooth. Check for seasoning.
2. Serve with colorful fresh cut vegetables.
- Cassileth B. Lycopene. Oncology (Williston Park). 2010 Mar;24(3):296.
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3. Grune T, Lietz G Palou A. β-Carotene Is an Important Vitamin A Source for Humans. J Nutr. 2010 Dec; 140(12): 2268S–2285S.doi: 10.3945/jn.109.119024.
4. He Y, Yue Y, Zheng X, Zhang K, Chen S, Du Z. Curcumin, inflammation, and chronic diseases: how are they linked? Molecules. 2015 May 20;20(5):9183–213. doi: 10.3390/molecules20059183.
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7. Yun CH, Jeong HG, Jhoun JW, Guengerich FP. Non-specific inhibition of cytochrome P450 activities by chlorophyllin in human and rat liver microsomes. Carcinogenesis. 1995 Jun;16(6):1437–40.
8. Egner PA, Wang JB, Zhu YR et al. Chlorophyllin intervention reduces aflatoxin-DNA adducts in individuals at high risk for liver cancer. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2001 Dec 4;98(25):14601–6. Epub 2001 Nov 27.
9. Buscemi S, Corleo D, Di Pace F, Petroni ML, Satriano A, Marchesini G. The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health. Nutrients. 2018 Sep; 10(9): 1321. doi: 10.3390/nu10091321
10. Khoo HE, Azlan A, Tang ST, Lim SM. Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Food Nutr Res. 2017; 61(1): 1361779. doi: 10.1080/16546628.2017.1361779
11. Pate KM, Rogers M, Reed JW, van der Munnik N, Vance SZ, Moss MA. Anthoxanthin Polyphenols Attenuate Aβ Oligomer-induced Neuronal Responses Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2017 Feb;23(2):135–144. doi: 10.1111/cns.12659.
12. Bayan L, Koulivand PH, Gorji A. Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2014 Jan-Feb; 4(1): 1–14.
13. Wu X, Zhou Q, Xu K. Are isothiocyanates potential anti-cancer drugs? Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2009 May; 30(5): 501–512. doi:10.1038/aps.2009.50.