Eat A Rainbow, Part 1: Health Benefits Of Red Foods

Monday, October 23, 2006 - 2:01pm

By Heidi Reichenberger McIndoo, MS, RD

When it comes to healthy eating, many of us think about eating enough protein or fiber and avoiding sodium and saturated fat. But, how many of us attempt to eat colorfully? In this series, we’ll explore the nutritional value of foods according to their colors.

Why is the color of food important?

Mother Nature was doing more than painting a pretty landscape when she made fruits and vegetables come in a rainbow of colors. Those vibrant reds, greens, oranges, and more are not only nice to look at, they also give fruits and veggies a lot of their nutritional power. For that reason, rosy red cherries, strawberries and peppers share some of the same nutrients. Bright orange carrots, sweet potatoes and oranges do as well. Get the picture? Think about your breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates. Are they somewhat monotone or even two-toned mostly consisting of potatoes, corn and peas? Or do they resemble an artist’s palate with yellow peppers, green broccoli, red raspberries, and purple eggplant?

What’s in the red color food?

Most of the nutrients I’ll be telling you about are antioxidants. That means they protect our bodies’ cells from damage caused by normal body reactions, smoking, sun damage, etc. By doing so, they provide protection from cancers and age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The most talked about red bonus nutrient is lycopene. Lycopene is especially high in tomato products. In fact, cooked tomato foods like tomato sauce and ketchup contain the highest amounts of lycopene. It’s also found in other red foods such as watermelon. The biggest benefit of lycopene is that it can dramatically lower your risk of developing prostate cancer. In addition, eating lycopene-rich foods regularly may also help people who have prostate cancer by preventing it from spreading, as well as keeping tumors small. For women, it may also lower your chances of developing lung, breast, and stomach cancers.

For more information on lycopene and prostate cancer see the following articles from TheDietChannel: Lycopene and Prostate Cancer and Tomatoes Fight Prostate Cancer.

Red foods to eat

  • Red apples
  • Red grapes
  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelons
  • Beets
  • Red potatoes
  • Red onions
  • Radishes

Ways to boost your red food intake

  • Sprinkle some raspberries into yogurt for a breakfast or snack.
  • Mix dried cranberries with almonds for an on-the-go snack.
  • Sauté red onion and add to chili or soups.

For further information on red foods and their health benefits see the following article from TheDietChannel: Prevent Cancer & Heart Disease with Phytochemicals.