Eat a variety of colored produce to get the most health benefits
“Variety is the spice of life, that gives it all its flavor” -William Cowper.
Most of us have a general understanding that eating vegetables can be protective against certain health conditions. But are all vegetables created equal? Certain colors of vegetables seem to be protective against specific conditions. To ensure that we get all of the possible health benefits out of our veggies it’s important that we eat a variety of different colored vegetables to get all of the benefits possible.
A diet rich in plant foods provides essential vitamins and minerals, and over 25,000 phytochemicals. Many phytochemicals have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties which result in many other health benefits. These phytochemicals are colorful, recommending a wide variety of colorful fruit and vegetables is an easy way to communicate increased diversity of intake to the general population. Some examples of pigments that offer health benefits include red foods like tomatoes, which contain lycopene, may be involved in maintaining prostate health, which can be linked with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Green foods like broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale contain glucosinolates which have been associated with a decreased risk of cancer. Garlic and other white foods in the onion family contain allyl sulphides which can inhibit cancer cell growth (1). It is clear that different colored fruits and vegetables have unique benefits, and eating a variety of colored produce will give the best protection against disease.
One prospective, population-based cohort study looked at the fruit and vegetable intake of 20,069 health men and women, 10 years later 233 incidences of stroke were documented. Fruit and vegetable intake were broken down into 4 groups: green, orange/yellow, red/purple and white. White fruit and vegetable consumption were the most protective against stroke (2).
In a case-controlled study with 2,114 participants researchers observed that a greater intake of orange/yellow, red/purple and white vegetables and fruit was associated with the greatest risk reduction of colorectal cancer (3).
In another study researchers examined the associations between fruit and vegetables of different colors and their subgroups and 10-year coronary heart disease incidence, researchers obtained data from a prospective population-based cohort and found that the intake of all fruits and vegetables were protective against heart disease, higher intake of orange vegetables, showed to be the most protective against heart disease (4).
When grocery shopping be sure to get a variety of colored produce to ensure you are getting a variety of benefits from each color. It will be a long time before scientists understand all of the phytochemicals contained in plants but it’s important to use the information that we do have currently and use it to our advantage. There are many variables that we don’t have much control over like genetics, and the decline is soil quality, resulting in less nutritious food, however we must focus on the variables that we have control over, like eating enough fresh produce, getting enough exercise and keeping our body fat in a healthy range. Focus on variables that you have control over and try not to stress about the variables that you can’t control.
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