When planning what to eat, think of a rainbow. Eating brightly colored fruits and vegetables helps to give your body the nutrients it needs. These same nutrients are the disease-fighting components that give fruits and vegetables their array of colors.
Eating a variety of colors can help –
- Strengthen your immune system
- Lower risk for certain cancers
- Help ward off type 2 diabetes
- Maintain heart heath
- Improve memory
- Reduce the risk for some eye diseases
The pigments that make some foods red are known as anthocyanins and lycopene. These are the compounds that fight free radicals and prevent oxidative damage to cells, important to preserving eye health, keeping our hearts healthy and helping to fight cancers. Heat concentrates lycopene levels so cooked tomatoes and tomatoe sauces have higher concentrations than raw fruit.
Add red to your meals by tossing a handful of raspberries, strawberries, goji berries or pomegranate seeds into your cereal, slicing roasted beets or red bell pepper into a salad, or adding cooked red adzuki or kidney beans to a rice dish.
Here are examples of red fruits and vegetables:
- Red apples
- Adzuki beans
- Red cabbage
- Goji berries
- Pink grapefruit
- Red grapes
- Red peppers
- Red potatoes
For a recipe filled with lycopene, try a zesty Orange and Tomato Salsa, one of three salsa crudas using brightly colored fruits.
Orange & Yellow
Orange fruits and vegetables contain beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that promotes eye health, can delay cognitive aging and protect the skin from sun damage. Beta-carotene also converts to vitamin A, which is important for night vision and the health of your immune system. Orange foods also contain vitamin C, another antioxidant that boost the immune system, but also protects against cardiovascular disease. Yellow fruits and vegetables contain lutein, another nutrient important for healthy vision.
Some of the sources you can enjoy include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Summer squash
- Citrus fruit
- Peaches and nectarines
- Sweet corn
- Yellow peppers
- Yellow tomatoes
To incorporate more orange/yellow foods into your diet, replace French fries with crisp, baked sweet potato slices, keep dried apricots, pineapple or mangoes handy for a ready-to-eat snack or add sweet potatoes to black beans or chili for a color and texture boost.
To get your day off to a great start, try an Apricot-Orange Breakfast Smoothie.
Green fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigment called “chlorophyll” and are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, pigments that may help your eyes filter damaging light rays, thus protecting against macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in people over 65. Green fruits and vegetables are also a good source of vitamins C & K, fiber, folate and magnesium which contain anti-cancer properties as well as helping promote strong bones and teeth.
Some examples of the green group include:
- Green apples
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Green cabbage
- Green grapes
- Green Pepper
- Honeydew melon
- Green onions
- Green pepper
A delicious way to eat your greens is a Summer-time Asparagus, Strawberry and Spinach Salad.
Blue & Purple
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables are rich anthocyanins, lutein, zeaxanthin, resveratrol and vitamin C. These nutrents help protect cells and heal your body. Research suggests they play active roles in promoting eye and heart health, preventing premature aging, reducing inflammation, decreasing cancer cell growth and improving memory.
Foods such as blueberries, figs, eggplants, plums and grapes get their gorgeous hue from the phytochemical anthocyanin (also found in red foods). Anthocyanins act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Studies have even shown that eating more blueberries is linked with improved memory function and healthy aging.
Be sure to help yourself to plenty of blue/purple foods, such as
- Purple grapes
- Purple cabbage
- Acai berries
Here is another easy yet eye-healthy dish from our Eye Cook webpage, Eggplant and Tomato Pasta .
White fruits and vegetables are colored by pigments called anthoxanthins, which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Onions also have the flavonoid quercetin, known for its anti-inflammatory properties and cardiovascular health benefits. As we know, being heart-healthy is also being eye-healthy.
Some members of the white group, such as bananas and potatoes, are also a good source of potassium, while the hard-shelled coconut is considered a “superfood” because its natural water is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes, while the raw coconut meat (flesh), which is found around the inside of a coconut shell contains high levels of lauric acid, for helping reduce cholesterol and promoting brain health.
Some examples of the white group include:
This recipe for Dark Chocolate Fondue, not only has cream of coconut, but is wonderful when dipping bananas!