Phytonutrients: 6 plant colors you should add to your diet

Do you eat your fruits and vegetables? Unfortunately, many people don’t. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 1 in 10 Americans eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables (which is 1.5–2 cups of fruits and 2–3 cups of vegetables daily). However, low fruit and vegetable intake is not just a problem for the United States. The World Health Organization estimates that low fruit and vegetable intake is the cause of 1.7 million deaths around the world! There are many reasons why people do not eat fruits and vegetables. The reasons may be due to limited access or poverty. Some people don’t know how much they should eat or how to incorporate plant foods into their diet. Some people don’t like eating fruits and vegetables. No matter what the reason, low intake of fruits and vegetables is unfortunate. They provide so many benefits, like reducing the risks of developing cancer or chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, obesity, and others. Not only do fruits and vegetables provide necessary vitamins, minerals, and fiber, they have color!

Why should you care about the colors of fruits and vegetables? Phytonutrients. Fight-to-what? Phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals) are naturally occurring components found primarily in plants. Phytonutrients are produced in the plant as a means to thwart bugs, fungi, radiation, ultraviolet rays, or other threats. Still, when consumed by humans, they have been shown to offer many health benefits. It just so happens that phytonutrients give many plants their signature colors. Many phytonutrients are associated with a specific color and health effect.


To see which colors you should eat and their benefits, keep reading.

Red:

  • Fruits- apples, blood oranges, cherries, cranberries, nectarines, pink grapefruit, pomegranate, raspberries, red currants, red pears, red plums, strawberries, watermelon

  • Vegetables- radicchio, radishes, red beets, red bell peppers, red cabbage, red chard, red jalapeño pepper, red onion, red potatoes, tomatoes

  • Phytonutrients- anthocyanins, carotenoids, citrulline, ellagic acid, ellagitannins, fisetin, flavones, lycopene, phloretin, and quercetin

  • Benefits- anti-inflammatory, prevents cell damage, prevents eye deterioration, boosts immune function, and may help fight cancer

Orange:

  • Fruits- apricots, blood oranges, cantaloupe, kumquat, mandarins, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, persimmons, tangerines

  • Vegetables- carrots, orange bell peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, turmeric, yams, butternut squash

  • Phytonutrients- alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, curcuminoids, hesperidin

  • Benefits- antioxidant for fat-soluble tissues, prevents eye deterioration, aids proper hormone functioning, aids reproduction, and improves circulation

Yellow:

  • Fruits- apples (e.g., golden delicious), Asian pears, bananas, lemons, pineapple, star fruit

  • Vegetables- corn, ginger, potatoes (e.g., Yukon), summer squash, yellow bell peppers, yellow onions

  • Phytonutrients- bioflavonoids, bromelain, gingerol, hesperidin, lutein, nobiletin, prebiotic fibers, rutin, zeaxanthin

  • Benefits- prevents cell damage, aids chemicals activities in the body, helps digestion, stabilized blood sugar, improves circulation, and supports healthy bacteria in the gut

Green:

  • Fruits- apples (e.g., Granny Smith), avocado, kiwi, limes, olives, pears

  • Vegetables- artichokes, asparagus, bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, celery, cucumbers, edamame, green beans, green peas, greens (e.g., lettuce, kale, spinach), okra, herbs (e.g., rosemary), snow peas

  • Phytonutrients- catechins, chlorogenic acid, chlorophyll, epigallocatechin gallate, flavonoids, folates, glucosinolates, isoflavones, isothiocyanates, L-theanine, nitrates, oleocanthal, oleuropein, phytosterols, silymarin, sulforaphane, tannins, theaflavins, tyrosol, vitexin

  • Benefits- prevents cell damage, supports the cardiovascular system, aids immune function, may improve mood

Blue and Purple:

  • Fruits- blackberries, blueberries, figs, prunes, purple grapes, plums

  • Vegetables- eggplant, purple carrots, purple potatoes, radicchio

  • Phytonutrients- anthocyanidins, flavonoids, phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, pterostilbene, resveratrol, stilbenes

  • Benefits- prevents cell damage, supports brain health, anti-inflammatory, helps fight cancer, and anti-aging properties

White/Brown:

  • Fruits- dates

  • Vegetables- cauliflower, daikon radish, garlic, jicama, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, shallots

  • Phytonutrients- allicin, quercetin, sulforaphane

  • Benefits- helps fight cancer, protects the cardiovascular system, and prevents bone loss

*Note: The information above should be used as a guide and not a rule. Many plant foods contain more than one color pigment. Exceptions are common. While emerging research is promising, the recommendations above are not meant to be used to treat or cure medical conditions.


Just as there is a low intake of fruits and vegetables in general, it is not surprising that there is a low intake of phytonutrients. The low intake of phytonutrients is called the “phytonutrient gap.” According to the Nutrilite Health Institute, Americans (between 69% and 88%) are not eating enough of any of the phytonutrient color categories. To fill the gap and reap the maximum benefits of phytonutrients, it is recommended that you consume 1-2 servings of each color fruit or vegetable daily.



Tips for increasing phytonutrient intake:

  1. Keep ready-to-eat fruits and vegetable handy and visible for snacking

  2. Use herbs instead of salt

  3. Make half your plate fruits and/or vegetables

  4. Choose at least 2 colors per meal

  5. Assemble a colorful fruit and/or vegetable salad to eat as an appetizer or entrée

  6. Be creative; add plants to sandwiches, cereals, soups, casseroles and other dishes for color, texture, and added flavor

  7. Don’t like fruits and vegetables? find ways to hide them in your favorite dishes (the internet is your friend)

  8. Utilize canned, dried, and frozen plant foods in addition to fresh

If you or anyone you know cannot afford or do not have access to fruit and vegetables, you can find your local food bank or affiliates here, or you can seek assistance here and here.


https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/downloads/fruits-vegetables/2018/2018-fruit-vegetable-report-508.pdf

https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/fruit/en/index2.html

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyKids/ActivitiesforKids/Happy-Healthy-Eating-for-Kids_UCM_312475_Article.jsp

https://www.aicr.org/news/nutrition-and-cancer-prevention-strategy-amidst-the-covid-19-pandemic/

https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-3/

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jnme/2019/2125070/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3650511/

https://foodrevolution.org/blog/eating-the-rainbow-health-benefits/

https://www.pwrnewmedia.com/2009/nutrilite90921nmr/downloads/AmerciasPhytonutrientReport.pdf

https://www.amwayglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/global_phytonutrient_report_commissioned_by_the_nutrilite_health_institute.pdf

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/phytonutrients-paint-your-plate-with-the-colors-of-the-rainbow-2019042516501

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/fill-up-on-phytochemicals

https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/110308p34.shtml

https://health.mo.gov/living/families/wic/pdf/phytonutrientsposter.pdf

https://fruitsandveggies.org/expert-advice/resources-available-obtain-free-low-discount-fruit-vegetables/

https://www.feedingamerica.org/need-help-find-food

https://www.usa.gov/food-help

https://www.nutrition.gov/topics/food-assistance-programs


Greetings! My name is Mary Pittman. I am currently enrolled in Georgia State University’s Coordinated Nutrition Program. Someday soon, I will be a registered dietitian with a Master’s degree! I have worked in a hospital for six years, four of which were in the ICU. I have worked with hundreds of patients and have seen many illnesses. Many illnesses can be treated and prevented by a healthy lifestyle. It is my dream to learn how to help people who struggle to find a healthier way to live. My other interests include painting, playing my violin, and learning Harry Potter trivia (sorry, not sorry).

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