By Robert Ringborn
Want more energy? Improved stamina? Calmer nerves? Eat your colors and harness the power of phytochemicals -- organic compounds found in fruits and vegetables that endow them with their respective colors, each of which bestows unique nutritional benefits.
Carolyn Dean -- a physician, a neuropathic doctor and the medical director of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association (NutritionalMagnesium.org) -- has been following the rainbow for years. We asked her to explain the various properties of red, orange, green, white and blue foods so you can better balance your diet and attack specific health issues.
What to eat: Tomatoes, beets, red apples, cranberries, red grapes, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon and red peppers.
Why: The same fruits and veggies responsible for staining your best dress shirts are also believed to fight prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and -- listen up, guys -- male infertility. According to Dean, crimson-colored crops contain varying amounts of lycopene and anthocyanin, two naturally occurring chemicals in plants that are as rich in antioxidants as they are in difficult-to-pronounce syllables. Antioxidants, of course, are powerful molecules that cruise around your body, bonding to and safely defusing other less stable molecules (called free radicals, man!), which, if left unchecked, could cause you some serious cellular damage.
Oranges and Yellows
What to eat: Oranges, papayas, pumpkins, carrots, yellow squash, lemons, sweet corn and pineapples
Why: Sure, a tall glass of Tang can deliver your daily dose of vitamin C, which aids in the healing of wounds and the synthesis of collagen. But actual oranges and similarly shaded foods also provide you with the pigments alpha- and beta-carotene. “Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A,” says Dean. “The body converts this compound into vitamin A, which in turn promotes healthy vision, strong bones and smooth skin.” Got psoriasis? Eat more oranges.
What to eat: Spinach, green apples, honeydew, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and avocados.
Why: Milk may do the body good, but spinach may do the body even better. Greens are actually packed with higher and more absorbable concentrations of calcium than dairy products. They also contain the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for vision. “And that’s to speak nothing of the chlorophyll in greens, which is a great detoxifier,” says Dean. “Kelp in particular is high in magnesium, an important nutrient in over 325 chemical activities in your body!” As a rule of thumb, the darker the green, the more chock-full of nutrients it is.
What to Eat: Pears, bananas, cauliflower, potatoes, mushrooms, onions and garlic.
Why: When you feel the need to chill out, reach for an onion. The aromatic bulb, like many white-ish veggies, is rich in the compound allicin. “This powerful antioxidant is known to combat high blood pressure and high LDL levels,” says Dean. Pale fruits and veggies are also packed with nutrients that are believed to stimulate your body’s B and T cells, which in turn boost your overall immune system. “And let’s not forget about bananas and potatoes, which are high in heart-healthy potassium,” says Dean.
Blues and Purples
What to eat: Blueberries, blackberries, plums, purple grapes, beets, purple cabbage and eggplant.
Why: Once upon a time, blueberries were largely ignored by nutritionists because of the fruit’s low level of vitamin C. Now, the same group of experts is tripping over itself to recommend that you eat 1 to 2 cups of the fruit every day. Why? “They’re high in anthocyanins, which can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and improve heart health,” says Dean. Blue fruits and veggies are also high in fiber and packed with antioxidants, and have been shown to reduce the risk of some male cancers. What can’t they do? They can’t make you fat, since they’re really low in calories too. Yahtzee!
Robert Ringborn has written for Men’s Journal, Maxim, Wired and dozens of other magazines on topics ranging from health and technology to crime and finance.