Mild weather, morning dew and leaves changing colors are all signs that autumn is upon us. Autumn is also harvest time and a beautiful selection of fruits and vegetables are available for our enjoyment. Squash, apples, beets, and leafy kale and collards greens create a cornucopia of colorful produce that are full of flavor and important nutrients.
Some of the health benefits that come from fruits and vegetables can be found in the actual color of the produce itself. “Plants contain phytonutrients and are very important to our health and well-being”, states Dr. Desmonette Hazly, comprehensive integrative health, and lifestyle medicine specialist. Phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, are chemical compounds that give plants their vibrant colors as well as their distinctive aromas and flavors. These nutrients play a part in the immune system of plants and protect plants from disease and excessive exposure to the sun.
Dr. Hazly teaches integrative nutrition and culinary medicine classes and stresses the importance of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. “When we eat plants, phytonutrients help protect our bodies from chronic diseases. Each color of the plants we eat contributes to helping us stay healthy.”
Dr. Hazly has shared a list of fruits and vegetables sorted by color, along with the phytonutrients they contain, and which foods you’ll find them in.
- Red: Rich in the carotenoid lycopene, a potent scavenger of gene-damaging free radicals that seems to protect against prostate cancer as well as heart and lung disease. Found in: strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, red onions.
- Orange and yellow: Provide beta cryptothanxin, which supports intracellular communication and may help prevent heart disease. Found in: carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, oranges, bananas, pineapple, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, winter squash (butternut, acorn), peaches, cantaloupe, corn.
- Green: These foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals like sulforaphane, isothiocyanates, and indoles, which inhibit the action of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). Found in: spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, collard greens, green tea, green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil).
- Blue and purple: Have powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins believed to delay cellular aging and help the heart by blocking the formation of blood clots. Found in: blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, Concord grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, purple cabbage.
- White and brown: The onion family contains allicin, which has anti-tumor properties. Other foods in this group contain antioxidant flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol. Found in: onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms.
It is very important that we “eat a rainbow” of fruits and vegetables to maintain good health.