Color Yourself Healthy

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Red and orange, green and blue, shiny yellow, purple too, all the colors that we know…should be on your plate!

Nearly all fruits and vegetables are low in fat and contain healthy components called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural plant compounds that provide a variety of health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses. These phytochemicals are what give produce their vibrant colors. The goal then, is to consume our “5 a Day” while varying the types and colors of fruits and vegetables.

Just as peacocks fan out their beautiful feathers to attract their mates, whole fruits and vegetables wear their colors proudly as indicators of their nutrient density. Color is extremely important when it comes to food because, as a general rule, the brighter the color of food, the higher concentration of nutrients it contains. Each color specifically represents different vitamins and minerals they contain.

Red Group
Examples: tomatoes, watermelon, red grapes, radishes, pomegranates, and pink grapefruit.

Specific phytochemicals in red fruits and vegetables such as lycopene and anthocyanins are important because they help rid the body of free radicals that damage genes. Research indicates that lycopene protects against prostate cancer, as well as heart and lung disease. In addition, anthocyanins help to reduce the effect of sun damage on the skin from free radicals as well as assist in circulatory issues. There is also evidence that these phytochemicals help with memory function, urinary tract health, heart health, and by lowering the risk of certain cancers.

Yellow/Green Group
Examples: spinach, collard greens, yellow corn, peas, avocado, and honeydew.

This group is a great source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these components are believed to reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Orange Group
Examples: carrots, mangoes, apricots, cantaloupe, pumpkin, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes.

The orange fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids and bioflavonoids that may help prevent cancer by repairing DNA. The beta-carotene in this group, which converts to vitamin A, is also good for night vision.

Orange/Yellow Group
Includes oranges, pineapple, peaches, papaya, and nectarines.

This group contains beta cryptoxanthin, a strong antioxidant that protects against free radicals that can damage your cells and DNA. Research has shown that beta-cryptoxanthin is protective against lung and colon cancer. In addition, it may reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. This group is also high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps protect cells.

Red/Purple Group
Examples: figs, beets, eggplant, purple grapes, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, red apples, and red wine.

Red/purple fruits and vegetables contain health promoting phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and phenolics, which protect against heart disease and blood clots. These phytochemicals may also delay the aging of cells in the body and help in healthy aging. In addition, there is some evidence they may help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and help with memory function. Of this group, blueberries have the highest antioxidant activity because of a large anthocyanin concentration.

Green Group
Examples: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, and kale.

This group contains the chemicals sulforaphane and isocyanate, and they also contain indoles. Each of these substances helps to protect against cancer by inhibiting the action of carcinogens.

White/Green Group
Examples: leeks, scallions, garlic, onions, celery, pears, cauliflower, endive, green grapes, and chives.

White fruits and vegetables contain a variety of phytochemicals such as allicin, which is found not only in garlic and onions but in an array of brown and tan foods as well. This particular phytochemical has some antibiotic properties, similar to anti-bacterials and anti-fungals, in addition to having anti-tumor properties. Other foods in this group also contain quercetin and kaempferol. Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties. It may also be protective against prostate cancer. Kaempferol is also an antioxidant and may prevent arteriosclerosis. In addition, quercetin and kaempferol work synergistically to reduce cell proliferation of cancer cells.

Now Let's Eat!

Now that you have the information, let’s figure out what to do with it. Some people can’t get enough fruits and vegetables - it’s like candy from the earth! But those people aren’t a dime a dozen and were probably the only 4 year old who begged for more brussels sprouts, opposed to the majority of people who are now thinking that rainbow sprinkles and those Firecracker® popsicles are pretty colorful, which means you can start eating more of those (this just in… those unfortunately don’t count).

Produce Buying Tips

The easiest way to increase your fruit and veggie intake is by adding them in small quantities to each meal. Most individuals don’t buy fresh produce that often in fear of them spoiling, but I’m going to let you in on a secret...if you eat them, they won’t spoil!

  • Be realistic: don’t buy a pound of green beans for just you (especially if you hate green beans).
  • It’s always a great idea to buy the loose produce opposed to the pre-packaged versions so you are able to control the quantity.  
  • The complaint associated with the cost of produce (especially if they rot) is usually what follows, and the answer to that is even simpler, buy frozen! Not only does it last longer but you can buy them in larger quantities and not use it all at one time.
  • Lastly, I don’t usually promote canned vegetables due to the mounds of salt and unidentifiable preservatives, but if you drain and rinse them well before use I am not entirely opposed.

Produce Eating Tips

After buying the fruits and vegetables, the next step would be integrating them into your meals, since it is recommended to eat anywhere between 5 and 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Some easy ways to accomplish this are: 

  • start at least one meal with a small salad
  • choose an apple (or apple slices) for a snack instead of a bag of chips
  • throw in a handful of mixed greens onto your sandwich or wrap
  • trade in your chocolaty dessert for mixed berries.


Produce purchased? Check. Integrating them into your diet? Check. Eat the rainbow? Yes! As I mentioned earlier, Not all fruits and vegetables are created nutritionally equal. Some vegetables, such as corn and potatoes are loaded with starch, placing them in the starch column instead of the vegetable one, when it comes to health benefits. Such vegetables happen to be a part of the popular crowd and get eaten a lot, so consider having one starchy vegetable and swapping the rest for dark-green, red or orange vegetables.

Eat right with color, taste the rainbow, color yourself healthy, or circle around the color wheel to bring about a healthier you.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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