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Did your kindergarten teacher unknowingly give you the key to better health? Take a second look at the basic colors of the spectrum and you’ll discover how they can provide you with a lifelong way to color yourself healthy, day in and day out. From shiny hair and nails to vibrant skin and teeth, it’s simply elementary to remember that a rainbow of colorful fruits and veggies is the key to overall health, beauty, and wellness. Each color offers a diverse array of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Here’s the lowdown on making the most of this spectrum:
Red—Here’s a case when it’s good to see red. Many red-hued foods are chock-full of powerful antioxidants such as lycopene—plus beta-carotene, a top anticancer carotenoid. “Lycopene functions as an antioxidant, which means it can help protect cells from oxidative damage,” says Milton Stokes, MPH, RD. “The red-colored items may help maintain heart health, vision, immunity, and reduce the risk of cancer.” Reach for tomatoes, tomato sauce, red peppers, beets, and even shades of pink—like watermelon and pink grapefruit—to tap into these beneficial compounds.
Orange and Yellow—Think sunshine: sweet potatoes, corn, pumpkins and other squash, and carrots. Indeed, it’s those orange and deep yellow carotenoids that help protect plants from sun damage. And foods that contain phytonutrient carotenoids are also good for the eyes and help guard against the age-related degeneration of eye structure. “Carrots are a good source of beta carotene, which gets turned into vitamin A and helps promote normal vision and seeing in the dark,” says Stokes. “Vitamin A helps us to adjust to lower levels of light.” From apricots and peaches to yellow peppers and summer squash, go for the gold.
Green—Rich, like the color of greenbacks, green foods are plentiful in antioxidants, thanks to abundant chlorophyll. “Chlorophyll is a protein with the same structure as hemoglobin, and therefore with a desirable amino acid composition,” says Walter Last, author of The Natural Way to Heal: 65 Ways to Create Superior Health.
“Green veggies are also high in desirable fiber and minerals including calcium, and are highly desirable for cancer and all inflammatory conditions,” says Last. Go for the green in kale, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, and romaine lettuce —but remember to only steam or cook lightly to retain beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Blue—That deep color of blueberries and blackberries indicates fiber and anticancer qualities, thanks to the pigment anthocyanin. “Anthocyanins and related compounds belong to the group of flavonoids and are polyphenols with three carbon rings that are responsible for the red, purple, and blue colors,” says Last. “The main benefits of anthocyanins are probably due to their strong antioxidant and free radical quenching activity.” Dark-colored berries and grapes contain the highest concentrations of anthocyanins.
Indigo—Not only beautiful, these dark-colored foods, such as plums, eggplant, and grapes, are also filled with bountiful nutrients. “Basically, all foods that produce a red, blue, or purple juice when pressed contain bioflavonoids or betalains,” says Last. “Bioflavonoids are powerful antioxidants, and their acknowledged health benefits include antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antihistamine, and antiallergy effects.”
Violet—Purple-pigmented betacyanin is a powerhouse nutrient. “Betacyanin is a betalain and the purple-crimson pigment in red beet or beetroot and prickly pear,” says Last. Used for centuries, he notes that it’s this active ingredient (plus its richness in minerals and micronutrients) has led to the red beet’s use as a blood, heart, and digestive tonic—plus its more recent use as an immune aid and anticancer agent.
The bottom line: “Many fall short of the baseline target of five fruits and veggies a day. Go for the rainbow of colors and try to have at least one fruit or veggie at each meal,” says Stokes. Now, isn’t that something you learned in grade school?