Why do we always hear people say that we should eat a variety of food, especially fruits and vegetables? Why do we need to eat a “rainbow of colours”? Eating a variety of colourful food provides us vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that our body needs.
Fruits and vegetables have their own phytochemicals (natural plant pigments) which give it its colour, and of course, the healthy properties as well. We can generally divide fruits and vegetables into 5 different categories: red, orange/yellow, green, purple/blue and White.
Red fruits and vegetables get the red colour from lycopene or anthocyanin. Lycopene is an antioxidant which means it has a property of neutralizing free radicals and thus reduces risk of certain types of cancer. Lycopene has also shown to be beneficial for prostate health. Anthocyanin and flavonoid are also antioxidants which help to protect your cells from damage. It also helps increase heart and blood circulation, improve memory, decrease urinary-tract infection and help with blood pressure and heart disease.
The colour orange/yellow is from carotenoid. One of carotenoid forms is beta-carotene which is later converted to vitamin A. Vitamin A helps maintain healthy mucus membrane, immune system, bone growth, cell growth and healthy vision. Another carotenoid form is lutein, which promotes eye healthy and prevents age-related macular degeneration, which may lead to blindness. Orange colour fruits and vegetables are also a good source for vitamin C (also an antioxidant), which is important for immunity and mucous membrane health; deficient in vitamin C may lead to abnormal bleeding in gums and skin. Research also shown that higher intake of carotenoid may help with lowering risk of heart disease.
Green vegetables get the colour from chlorophyll. Those vegetables contain carotenoids, indole and saponin which may help protect against some types of cancer, and just like the orange/yellow group, they’re good for your eyes! Green leafy vegetables (i.e. spinach) are high in vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C and folate (vitamin B9). Folate is important for brain function, DNA and RNA production, cells and tissues growth and it works with Vitamin B12 for red cell production (to prevent anaemia).
The colour of blue/purple (sometimes dark red) is from anthocyanin, which acts as a powerful antioxidant. It may protect you against cancer, stroke and heart disease, and improve memory as well as immune system. Flavonoid in these fruits and vegetables may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
White: (not in the case of white bread and white rice)
While thinking white fruits and vegetables are white because they don’t have any pigment, they actually contain a pigment call anthoxanthin, which is a type of flavonoid and may contribute to heart health. Some may contain allicin (i.e. garlic), which has anti-bacterial qualities and may also help reduce risk of stomach cancer and heart disease, and enhance the immune system. Some white foods like potatoes and banana are high in potassium, which is crucial for heart function and plays an important role in muscle contraction, which makes it important for muscular function and normal digestive function.
Examples of food
Green leafy veggies
It’s important to include different colours of food on your plate, aim at least 3 colours of food at every meal, and make sure you eat cross categories to get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Xoxo Love Tammy