Natural compounds called phytonutrients, or phytochemicals, are components
of plants that are powerful defenders of health. Studies show that people who
eat more plant foods have reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Studies have also shown that eating more plant foods is associated with better brain health and lower inflammation.
Phytonutrients provide many functions in the plant itself, such as providing protection from pests and environmental stressors, along with imparting color and distinctive tastes and smells. In the human body, phytonutrients provide many benefits including supporting the immune system, improving heart and blood vessel health, supporting brain health, and promoting healthy estrogen metabolism.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of phytonutrients, along with some wild grains (such as wild black rice), herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and teas. Phytonutrients in food come in all different colors—green, yellow-orange, red, blue-purple, white, tan, and brown. To promote good health, it is important to eat fruits and vegetables of varied colors each day. Eating at least one serving of each color per day is an excellent goal to strive for! While darker-colored plants are generally higher in phytonutrients, white and tan plants also have several beneficial components.
Anyone can start with colour as a first basic step when developing a healthy way of eating.
Which colour is beneficial for what?
Red foods contain phytonutrients that may help reduce the risk for certain cancers, along with helping to protect the brain, blood vessels, and heart.
The red fruits include apples, blood oranges, cranberries, cherries, goji berries, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, and rhubarb. If you buy dried cranberries, cherries, or grapes (red raisins), make sure there is no added sugar.
When it comes to red vegetables, there are red bell peppers, beets, red onions, radicchio, radishes, sweet red peppers, and tomatoes.
Orange foods are anti-inflammatory, and they help protect the blood vessels, heart, and brain. Several orange foods are also a source of vitamin A.
The orange fruits include apricots, cantaloupe, mango, nectarine, oranges, papaya, persimmon, and tangerines. You can have these fruits fresh or dried; however, note that dried fruits purchased from the store will most likely have sugar and/or sulphites added, it is always best to consume these as a whole fruit.
Orange vegetables include acorn squash, orange bell pepper, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. Turmeric Root is also an excellent source of orange colour and has a whole host of health benefits, one to add into your diet regularly.
Yellow foods are beneficial because they contain compounds that are anti-
inflammatory, and they may protect the eyes and heart. Some studies indicate that yellow foods may also support the immune system as well as healthy digestion. Like the other categories, it is recommended that you get a variety of yellow foods.
Please note that some of the yellow foods like banana, corn, and potatoes are starchy and should be eaten with protein and fat to support blood sugar balance, or after intensive exercise such as HIIT.
Yellow fruits to choose from include Golden Delicious apples, Asian pears, gold kiwi, lemons, pineapple, and starfruit.
The yellow vegetables include yellow bell peppers, corn, and potatoes. Another source of yellow is Ginger Root, which is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and supporting digestive function.
Green foods are extremely beneficial to your health because they contain compounds that are anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and may protect the brain, heart, blood vessels, and bones. One of the unique attributes of some green foods is that they can assist with keeping hormones in balance.
The green fruits include apples (Granny Smith), avocado, limes, kiwi, olives,
and pears. Avocado and olives are considered fruits, as they contain a pit. These two foods are the “super foods” of the Mediterranean diet and an excellent addition to daily meals.
The green vegetables on this list are numerous: artichoke, bamboo sprouts, bean sprouts, bitter melon, bok choy, broccoli, broccolini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, cucumber, edamame/soy beans, green beans, green peas, greens of all types (beet, chard, dandelion, kale, lettuce, spinach, and turnip), okra, mange tout, and watercress.
Blue/purple/black foods from nature are healthy because they contain compounds that are anti-inflammatory, and they may protect the heart, bone, liver, and blood vessels. Eating more foods from this colour is important, as they are particularly beneficial for protecting the brain from damage and promoting healthy cognition.
This colour often requires more effort to include into your diet as there are fewer choices. The blue/purple/black fruits include a wide variety of berries: blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries and black currants. Other blue/purple fruits include figs, grapes, prunes, and raisins. When buying prunes, dried figs, and raisins at the grocery store, read the label to be sure that no added preservatives (e.g., sulphites, BHT, BHA) or added sweeteners have been included.
Again be careful when eating the dried fruit form as they have a high concentration of sugar and so it is easy to overconsume. Often best added to dishes to help with this.
The blue/purple/black vegetables include purple cabbage, eggplant, purple kale, black olives, black rice, and purple rice. There are also purple varieties of certain vegetables like bell pepper, carrots, potatoes, and cauliflower.
When thinking of the white/tan/brown category, often processed foods come to mind. However, they are not a rich source of phytonutrients. This category includes nuts, fruits, vegetables, some legumes, spices, seeds, and whole grains which are rich in phytonutrients and beneficial to health. Again, legumes and some wholegrains are not suitable for everyone and should be had in moderation, and particular varieties, not recommended as the main part of every meal on a daily basis. Healthy white/tan/brown foods have been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activity.
White/tan/brown fruits include apples (the non-skin part of the apple) and applesauce, coconut, dates, lychees, and pears. There are several types of coconut products which could be included into one’s diet such as shredded, unsweetened coconut, coconut milk, coconut butter, and coconut oil. Dates can be used as a natural sweetener, again in moderation, not consuming multiple dates as a snack.
White/tan/brown vegetables include cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms, onion, sauerkraut, and shallots. Nuts and seeds also fall into this category and are an excellent source of fiber, protein and fats that should be regularly included into your diet on a daily basis.
Reference – Functional Medicine Guidance and Toolkit for Practitioners. - The Institute for Functional Medicine | Information and educational seminars and conferences on functional medicine. (ifm.org)