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The Color Density Table: Colorful Phytonutrients in Common Foods

Quick Read:

  • Study after study demonstrates the benefits of colorful phytonutrients, including working as antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and preventing chronic disease.
  • Although looking at the colors of foods can give us insight into which phytonutrients they provide, no food has just a single phytonutrient. Many contain a complete spectrum.
  • Different foods have different quantities: some are rich sources of more than one of the colorful phytonutrients; others have only small quantities.

The Deeper Dive:

If you follow my work, then you know I love colorful food because it helps fill in the phytonutrient gap: those important nutrients that go beyond your essential vitamins and minerals. Study after study demonstrates the benefits of these phytonutrients, including working as antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and preventing chronic disease.

In my books Whole Detox and The Rainbow Diet, I emphasize the importance of eating not just colorful food but the whole spectrum of colors from red to green to white. Looking back at my blog, you will also see posts about the benefits of the different colors, especially regarding different body systems:

Although looking at foods can give us great insight for which phytonutrients they provide, no food has just a single phytonutrient. Many contain a complete spectrum, and we see only some of the colors due to our limited ability to see in the electromagnetic spectrum. In fact, it is often this synergy that imparts the health benefits rather than the single nutrient. So, I have gone searching to see which of the representative phytonutrients for each color different plant foods have. The results are in table below.

Despite this table demonstrating that one food source may have multiple color phytonutrients, do not think that means you get sufficient quantities just from eating one food. Different foods still have different quantities: some are rich sources of more than one of the colorful phytonutrients; others have only small quantities. Therefore, eating a variety remains the best way to ensure a mixture of essential phytonutrients.

Explanation of the Table

In this table, I used one or two main phytonutrients to represent the colors:

  • Lycopene for red
  • Beta-carotene for orange
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin for yellow
  • Chlorophyll for green
  • Anthocyanidins for purple

There are other ones that may provide one of these colors, but this is meant to be a representative list rather than an exhaustive list. As you will see, it is easy to find foods with these colors, even if from the outside it does not appear as though the plants have that color.

The following table is in alphabetical order and contains many of the commonly consumed vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and spices. The majority of information comes from the USDA National Nutrient Database, with the anthocyanidin information derived from the USDA Database for Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods 3.1. The latter database is not as extensive as the former, so some of the foods on this table were not included in that database. These foods have an “N/A” listed under the purple column. There were also a few foods for which the USDA National Nutritional Database did not list the lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein, and/or zeaxanthin content, so you will see an N/A listed for those foods.

Additionally, the table only designates that there is some quantity of these phytonutrients but does not designate which are highest in the color nor which of the colors is more dominant for the particular color. Unless designated, the results are for the raw version of the foods.

 

Plant Food

RED 

(Lycopene)

ORANGE

(Beta-Carotene)

YELLOW

(Lutein/

Zeaxanthin)

GREEN

(Folates)

PURPLE

(Flavonoids)

Acorn squash X X X N/A
Almonds X X X X
Amaranth X X X N/A
Apricots X X X X
Artichokes X X X X
Arugula X X X X
Asparagus X X X X
Avocado (all commercial varieties) X X X X
Bananas X X X X
Basil (dried) X X X X
Beets X X X
Black beans X X
Blackberries X X X X
Blueberries X X X X
Broccoli X X X X
Brussels sprouts X X X X
Butternut squash X X N/A
Cabbage X X X X
Cantaloupe X X X X
Carrots X X X X X
Casaba melon X X N/A
Cashews X X X
Cauliflower X X X
Celery X X X X
Chinese cabbage (pak-choi) X X X X
Chinese cabbage (pe-tsai) X X X X
Chives X X X X
Cilantro (Coriander) X X X X
Cranberries X X X X
Cucumbers X X X X
Eggplant X X X X
Endive X X X
Feijoa X X X X N/A
Fennel X X X X
Figs X X X X
Flaxseed X X N/A
Fuji apples X X X X
Gala apples X X X X
Garlic X X X X
Golden delicious apples X X X X
Granny Smith apples X X X X
Grapefruit X X X X X
Green and red grapes X X X

(especially green)

X

Green hot chili peppers X X X X
Green peas X X X X
Green peppers X X X X
Green snap beans X X X X
Guava X X X X
Hazelnuts X X X X
Honeydew melon X X X X
Iceberg lettuce X X X X
Jalapeño peppers X X X X
Jicama X X N/A
Kale X X X X
Kiwi X X X X
Kohlrabi X X X
Leeks X X X X
Lentils X X X
Mango X X X X X
Medjool dates X X X

X

(deglet noor)

Millet (cooked) X X X N/A
Nectarines X X X X
Okra X X X X
Onion X X X X
Oranges

(all commercial varieties)

X X X X
Oregano

(dried)

X X X X
Papayas X X X X X
Parsley X X X X
Pear X X X X
Pecans X X X X
Pine nuts (dried) X X X X
Pineapple X X X
Pistachios X X X X
Plums X X X X
Pumpkin X X X X
Pumpkin seeds (dried) X X X N/A
Quinoa X X X N/A
Radishes X X X X
Raspberries X X X X
Red cabbage X X X X X
Red delicious apples X X X X
Red hot chili peppers X X X N/A
Red lentils N/A X N/A X N/A
Red peppers X X X X
Red potatoes X X X X
Romaine lettuce X X X X
Russet (white) potatoes X X X
Rutabagas X X X X X
Savoy cabbage X X X X
Scallions X X X X
Sea vegetables (kelp) X X N/A
Serrano peppers X X X X
Sesame seeds (dried) X X N/A
Shallots X X X N/A
Snap peas X X X N/A
Sour red cherries X X X X
Soybeans, mature seeds X X X
Spaghetti squash X X N/A
Spinach X X X X
Spirulina X X N/A
Strawberries X X X X
Summer squash X X X X
Sunflower seeds (dried) X X N/A
Sweet cherries X X X X
Sweet potato, raw X X X
Swiss chard X X X X
Tangerines X X X X
Tomatoes X X X X X
Walnuts (English) X X X X
Watercress X X X X
Watermelon X X X X X
Yellow peaches X X X X
Yellow peppers N/A X N/A X X
Yellow plantain X X X N/A
Zucchini X X X X

Table updated 9/27/2018

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