Every produce stand displays a rainbow of colored fruits and vegetables. Eating the rainbow has taken on a whole new meaning with the discovery of antioxidants, the color compounds in foods. Antioxidants (also known as phytochemicals, phytonutrients, polyphenols, and flavonoids) are made by plants to help ward off predators and protect against radiation (1). When consumed, antioxidants rid our bodies of free radicals helping to protect against cancer, reduce inflammation, support our body systems, and much more (2). Antioxidants are found in fruits, vegetables, teas, grains, nuts, seeds, and beans.
I recommend using the Wholesome app to view the phytonutrient content of whole foods. The app was created by a cancer survivor whose mission is to encourage eating the rainbow to better one's health. You can look up any nutrient in the app, such as 'Lutein', and it will show you the top foods containing that nutrient. There are over 90 nutrients you can look up to help you find the best foods to meet your nutrition goals. For a small upgrade fee, you can keep a food diary and track your nutrient intake including antioxidants. The app personalizes to you, so if you're pregnant or vegetarian it will help you get enough of the nutrients that you need. It's an easy way be sure you are getting enough of what you need!
There are thousands of antioxidants found in red, orange, yellow, green, blue/violet, and white/brown foods. It is generally considered that the richer the color of the food, the more antioxidant power it boasts.
Red colored foods
The red foods contain antioxidants that protect the brain, liver, skin, and heart. Tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, apples, bell peppers, and rhubarb are examples of red foods that contain antioxidants such as lycopene, quercertin, and carotenoids. Lycopene is the most commonly known antioxidant found in tomatoes. Lycopene is best released from tomatoes after cooking, so make a tomato sauce to top your pasta. (1,3)
Orange colored foods
The orange foods include pumpkin, turmeric, apricot, and sweet potatoes. These foods are high in beta-carotene and carotenoids. Beta-carotene is an important antioxidant that is found across a number of colored food groups (4). It is converted into Vitamin A in the body and helps to support healthy cell growth and immune system function. It is important to cook an orange food if it a high source of fiber to release the beta-carotene into a usable form. (1)
Yellow colored foods
Ginger, corn, pineapple, bananas, and lemons are some of the yellow foods high in lutein. Lutein is another important antioxidant as it promotes brain and heart health. (1)
Green colored foods
The power of green foods is well known yet most of us don’t eat enough of them. Included in this group is spinach, green apples, avocado, and broccoli. These foods contain chlorophyll, catechins, phytosterols, and glucosinolates, which promote hormonal balance, liver health, and cancer protection (2). Catechins, the antioxidant found in green tea, helps prevent breast cancer. Phytosterols help to reduce cholesterol. Glucosinolates, found in cruciferous vegetables, decrease the risk of breast and uterine cancer. (1)
Blue/Violet colored foods
Berries, eggplant, figs, purple rice, and plums are part of the blue/violet group. This group hosts reservatrol and anthocyanidins that promote healthy aging and blood sugar control. Reservatrol is commonly associated with red wine; the red grape skins are an important source. (1)
White/Brown colored foods
The last color group is white/brown. The foods included in this group are mushrooms, onion, coconut, and garlic. Most grains, nuts, seeds, and beans also fall into this color group as well. Antioxidants of this group include allicin and lignans. Be sure to let chopped garlic sit for at least 10 minutes before using to unleash the powers of allicin. Allicin is used to lower-blood pressure and prevent cancer. (3)
Each color of the rainbow touts numerous benefits. Start tracking with Wholesome today to be sure you don’t miss any!
(1) The Institute of Functional Medicine. 2014. Phytonutrient Spectrum Comprehensive Guide. Retrieved from http://www.thehealthedgepodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Phytonutrient-Spectrum-Comprehensive-Guide.pdf
(2) Percival, M. (1997) Phytonutrients and Detoxification. Clinical Nutrition Insights, 5. Retrieved from http://www.acudoc.com/phytonutrients%20and%20detoxification.PDF
(3) University of Missouri Extension. 2012. Phytonutrients. Retrieved from http://health.mo.gov/living/families/wic/wiclwp/pdf/phytonutrients.pdf
(4) University of Missouri Extension. 2011. Phytonutrients- the power of color. Retrieved from http://health.mo.gov/living/families/wic/wiclwp/pdf/phytonutrientsposter.pdf