Why is it important to have colorful meals? Fruits and vegetables of different colors bring also powerful antioxidants that are characterized by different beneficial actions by protecting, for example, the eyes, the cardiovascular system, or by counteracting cancers and abdominal fat.
Orange, red, green or blue, how wonderful the fruit’s and vegetable’s colors are! But these colors aren’t just joyful and fascinating but reflect also the presence of antioxidant compounds that, in addition to giving the color, determine also the healthy properties of the food. We are speaking about carotenoids, anthocyanins and flavonoids, substances that counteract the aging processes and that we can take by varying the type, and therefore the color, of fruit and vegetables that we serve on the table. Dividing fruit and vegetables on the basis of the color may be, of course, reductive because in this way vitamins, mineral salts or other antioxidants, present but masked by another dominant color, aren’t taken into account. But for sure this division may be helpful to let us understand if we are eating in a varied way and if we are taking the maximum benefit from all the powerful substances offered us by nature. For this reason, a good choice is a high daily intake of fruit and vegetables of all the available colors. Let’s see better in detail in order to understand the properties linked to the different colors.
Colors blue and purple
The beneficial compounds responsible for the purple and blue colors of fruits and vegetables are the anthocyanins. The anthocyanins are a type of powerful antioxidants and are abundant, for example, in grapes, berries, black currant but also black carrot, red cabbage and purple potato. The anthocyanins have an anticancer and antidiabetic action, counteract free radicals and inflammations, are antimicrobial and protect the health of the eyes and the cardiovascular system (Khoo et al, Food nutr Res, Aug 2017). In particular, a high intake of purple and blue fruits and vegetables is linked to a decrease of abdominal fat and overweight but also of fasting blood sugar levels and of cholesterol (Mirmiran et al, Eur J Clin Nutr, Nov 2015).
Colors red, orange and yellow
The carotenoids, such as lycopene, beta carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein, are the antioxidants responsible for this nice color of fruits and vegetables. In particular, the carotenoids are abundant in carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, apricots, papaya, grapefruit, persimmons and watermelon. Lutein, although masked by chlorophyll that determines the green color, can be found in the vegetables of Brassica genus, such as, for example, kale and lettuce but also spinach and in general all the leafy greens (Khoo et al, Molecules, Feb 2011 – Xavier et al, Subcell Biochem, 2016). Yellow fruits and vegetables are linked to a lower weight gain and cholesterol, with a protective action on the cardiovascular system. The lutein rich foods are able to protect the eyes by reducing the progression of eye diseases caused by aging and cataract (Mirmiran et al, Eur J Clin Nutr, Nov 2015).
White and green colors
The green and white colors in fruits and vegetables are determined, respectively, by chlorophyll, a powerful anti cancer and anti inflammatory substance, and by particular pigments called anthoxanthins that include, for example, quercetin and kaempferol, with an immunostimulant and antioxidant action (Yao et al, Nutrients, Mar 2016). Eating more white and green fruits and vegetables is linked to a decrease in abdominal fat and to a lower value of the markers of the cardiovascular risk such as triglycerides and cholesterol (Mirmiran et al, Eur J Clin Nutr, Nov 2015). White fruits and vegetables have shown a high protective effect against some types of cancer, such as that of colon. Examples of green fruits and vegetables are peas, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, leafy greens, kiwi fruits while white foods are apple, pear, leak, garlic, mushroom and onion (Lee et al, World J Gastroenterol, Apr 2017). Don’t forget also that some white foods such as banana and white beans are important sources of potassium.