- 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:
- Red and the immune system
- Orange and reproductive health, especially for your ovaries
- Yellow and digestive health
- Green foods and heart health
- Aquamarine and thyroid
- Blue and purple for brain
- White for detox
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.
Neither source contained chlorophyll information. Chlorophyll is found in most plant foods in at least small quantities, but some contain higher amounts than others. Green foods naturally will have higher concentrations of chlorophyll than other plant foods. Leafy greens such as spinach are some of the best sources of chlorophyll. The products of chlorophyll breakdown that occur during fruit ripening may also have physiological benefits, such as working as antioxidants.
Because chlorophyll provides the conduit for photosynthesis (the process through which plants create their energy), all plants will have some chlorophyll content, at least at some point in their ripening process or in some part of the plant, such as the leaves or stems. As such, I have designated that all of the following contains chlorophyll, but bear in mind that some foods provide a richer source than others.
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.
|Avocado (all commercial varieties)||X||X||X||X|
|Golden delicious apples||X||X||X||X|
|Granny Smith apples||X||X||X||X|
|Green and red grapes||X||X||X (especially green)||X (red only)|
|Green hot chili peppers||X||X||X||X|
|Green snap beans||X||X||X||X|
|Medjool dates||X||X||X||X (deglet noor)|
|Oranges (all commercial varieties)||X||X||X||X|
|Pine nuts (dried)||X||X||X||X|
|Pumpkin seeds (dried)||X||X||X||N/A|
|Red delicious apples||X||X||X||X|
|Red hot chili peppers||X||X||X|
|Russet (white) potatoes||X||X|
|Sea vegetables (kelp)||X||X||N/A|
|Sesame seeds (dried)||X||N/A|
|Sour red cherries||X||X||X|
|Soybeans, mature seeds||X|
|Sunflower seeds (dried)||X||N/A|