Colorful Plate Nutrition: For Best Health, Eat Powerhouse Purple Foods, Lycopene-Rich Reds, and All The Colors of the Rainbow

Colorful Plate Nutrition: For Best Health, Eat Powerhouse Purple Foods, Lycopene-Rich Reds, and All The Colors of the RainbowWe all know we should eat more fruits and vegetables, but how colorful is your plate? The brightest and most colorful choices are some of the healthiest: They usually contain the most antioxidants, and are rich in vitamins and minerals that help your body function properly. Use the principles of colorful plate nutrition to get the most from your meals.

Red foods

Red foods contain abundant healthy nutrients such as anthocyanins and lycopene. Anthocyanins are a form of polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants that are particularly effective at fighting high blood pressure.[1] Increased intake of lycopene, a type of carotenoid, has been associated with a significant reduction in cancer risk.[2] Both of these nutrients are naturally red, and account for the bright red pigmentation of many foods, along with the health benefits of these foods. Some of the healthiest red foods include:

  1. Tomatoes. The single most important source of lycopene in our diet, tomatoes provide more than 85% of the dietary intake of lycopene.[2]
  2. Red cabbage is a great source of anthocyanins. It can help lower cholesterol, as well as help protect vital organs like the heart and the liver.[3,4,5]
  3. Pomegranates contain large amounts of polyphenols, which are antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and blood vessel dilators.[6]
  4. Red bell peppers. High in vitamin C, carotenoids, and polyphenols, this vegetable is loaded with antioxidants and nutrients for your health.[7]
  5. Beets. Blood pressure lowering, stamina boosting, and blood sugar regulating are just some of the impressive benefits of eating these sweet root vegetables.[8,9]

Other healthy red foods to incorporate into your diet include cranberries, cherries, strawberries, radishes, and red potatoes.

Green foods

Green drinks, green smoothies, green powders, green salads . . . eating your greens has become an important and well-known staple of healthy diets. There are countless nutrients in green foods. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants, and studies show it has antioxidant and anticancer effects.[10] Green, leafy vegetables contain natural nitrate, which helps to lower blood pressure.[11] Green foods are rich in fiber, which benefits a wide range of health conditions as well.[12]

  1. Spinach is a powerful tool for fighting high blood pressure, mostly due to its naturally high nitrate content.[11] It is also high in iron, an essential mineral in the body.
  2. Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, kale, Brussel’s sprouts, and broccoli.  This family of green veggies can significantly lower cholesterol. They are high in fiber, and contain antioxidant compounds as well.[13,14]
  3. Avocadoes. Consumption of avocadoes is associated with favorable cholesterol leevls, lower risk of metabolic syndrome, and lower weight. They are a source of healthy fatty acids and fiber, both of which have a wide range of health effects.[15]
  4. Kiwi fruit is very high in vitamin C, and as little as half a kiwi per day can raise vitamin C levels to a healthy range.[16] It can also benefit conditions like irritable bowel syndrome by increasing bowel movements and improving bowel function.[17]

Also try lettuces, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, and peas.

Blue/Purple foods

Blue and purple foods are often great sources of antioxidants, which have a range of beneficial health effects.

  1. Berries. Harvard researchers found that one serving of blueberries per week can reduce the risk of high blood pressure by 10%.[1]
  2. Eggplant contains high antioxidant capacities and also has high levels of chlorogenic acid, a phenolic compound.[18]
  3. Purple potatoes. Potatoes that are darker and more pigmented, like purple potatoes, contain more polyphenols and anthocyanins than their blander colored counterparts. Interestingly, as the polyphenol content rises, the glycemic index lowers, making purple potatoes a healthy alternative to other potato varieties.[19]

Other healthy purple and blue foods include plums, purple cabbage, figs, and purple corn.

Orange

Orange foods are plentiful in vitamin C, carotenoids, and other bioflavanoids. Carotenes are especially important for cancer prevention, and are associated with a lower risk of some cancers, especially lung cancer.[2]

  1. Carrots are rich in carotenes that are associated with decreased cancer risk. They provide about 51% of the dietary intake of α-carotene[2] as well as β-carotenes.[5]
  2. Oranges. Well known as a great source of vitamin C, oranges contain abundant antioxidants. Vitamin C is likely important for cancer prevention and cardiovascular protection.
  3. Sweet potatoes also contain β-carotene.[5] They have many antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. A recent study found that one of the many health benefits of sweet potatoes is the ability to reduce the glycemic response, which means it can help control blood sugar.[20]

Try adding pumpkin, apricots, cantaloupe, or other bright orange foods to your plate.

How to eat more color

Take a look at your dinner tonight. Does your plate look mostly monotone or drab? The healthiest meals will have a rainbow of colors on the plate. Make it a goal to include at least three different colored fruits or vegetables to your dinner daily, and sneak in even more servings of bright foods throughout the day.

Share your experience

What are your favorite colorful foods? How do you incorporate colorful plate nutrition into your life? Share recipes, tips, and ideas for eating a colorful diet in the comments section below.


[1] Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):338-47.

[2] Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Oct;72(4):901-2.

[3] J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Jun;92(8):1688-93.

[4] Am. J. Chin. Med., 42, 189 (2014).

[5] Molecules. 2011 Feb 18;16(2):1710-38.

[6] Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2013 May;15(5):324.

[7] Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2012 Dec;17(4):286-92.

[8] J Nutr Sci. 2014 Apr 30;3:e9.

[9] Red Beet Biotechnology. 2012, pp 155-174.

[10] Oregon State Univ. Linus Pauling Inst. Chlorophylls

[11] Nitric Oxide. 2013 Nov 30;35:123-30.

[12] J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2013;59(4):264-71.

[13] J Agric Food Chem. 2002 May 22;50(11):3346-50.

[14] Biomed Environ Sci. 2008 Apr;21(2):91-7.

[15] Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(7):738-50.

[16] J Nutr Sci. 2012 Oct 23;1:e14.

[17] Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2010;19(4):451-7.

[18] Int J Mol Sci. 2014 Sep 26;15(10):17221-41.

[19] Food Funct. 2014 May;5(5):909-15.

[20] Food Funct. 2014 Aug 20;5(9):2309-16.

This post originally appeared in 2014 and has been republished.

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