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Why Are Differently Colored Vegetables Good For Us?

We know plant foods are home to antioxidants, which are substances that shield us from oxidation and its effects. We also know that vegetables come in so many colors. Are different colors related to different antioxidants? If so, how? Let’s do a little exploring in this article.

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This article is related to antioxidants and part of a series. Please read the previous ones too if you haven’t.

The total antioxidant capacity of fruits and vegetables is representative of the concentration of different types of bio-active compounds. These compounds include carotenoids, ascorbic acid, tocopherols and phenolic compounds. Some of these compounds have characteristic colors. ​1–5​

Anthocyaninsred, blue and purple
Caretenoidsred and orange
Chlorophyllgreen
Examples of antioxidants and their pigmentation

Fruits and vegetables that are rich in anthocyanins, and therefore likely to be red, blue or purple in color have high antioxidant content, whereas those containing chlorophyll have low antioxidant content. Those with anthocyanins can potentially contribute more than 20% of the daily antioxidant requirement to our diets. The study based on which these conclusions were draw has three limitations.​1​

  1. Some fruits and vegetables have different colored insides and outsides.
  2. Both anthocyanins and lycopene are associated with the color red, but have different antioxidant capacities
  3. Some fruits and vegetables contain other antioxidant compounds in addition to the pigmented ones.

A few interesting facts:

  • Red lettuce may help in the reduction of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and prevent colorectal cancer.​5​
  • Green basil may help with high blood sugar, triglyceride and cholesterol levels.​5​
  • Red tomatoes may prevent chronic degenerative diseases, cardiovascular disease as well as age-related macular degeneration.​5​
  • Purple tomatoes may have anti-inflammatory effects.​5​
  • Purple, small-sized eggplants/baingan have the highest antioxidant content and may help with the suppression of tumour growth and inflammation.​5​
  • Anthocyanins may reduce inflammation, protect against radiation, defend against pathogens and stress, prevent carcinogenic activity and cardiovascular diseases, in addition to controlling obesity control and alleviating diabetes.​3,5​

Below is a table with antioxidant contents of some fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidant composition of various fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and VegetablesTotal Chlorophylls (mg/100 g)Total Carotenoids (mg/100 g)Total Tocopherols (mg/100 g)Total Vitamin C (mg/100 g)Total Polyphenols (mg GAE/100 g)Total Anthocyanins* (mg/100 g)
Apricot1.300.8910.0079.00
Avocado0.382.1110.00142.00
Banana0.070.108.71155.00
Black grape1.6129.00335.008.57–191.40
Blueberry0.011.209.60311.00122.70–386.6
Broccoli12.801.300.7989.20316.00
Cabbage2.750.100.1518.00–35.6444.50
Carrot13.860.665.9435.00
Cauliflower0.040.2148.2293.00
Cherry0.120.087.03114.5610.00–79.00
Corn0.820.076.83211.00
Cranberry bean1.780.4938.7282.00–415.00
Cress94.3–124.300.550.769.00602.00
Cucumber0.110.032.8829.00
Dill86.0019.30243.00
Eggplant0.40–1.000.304.00–7.0063.0085.7
Fig0.090.112.03960.00150–1500
Golden apple20.000.0707.70248.00
Grape0.110.193.1823.20
Grapefruit0.040.1333.3071.00
Green apple59.2–83.00.130.182.6968.29
Green bean8.402.090.4112.2092.00
Green pepper8.702.180.3780.40160.00
Iceberg2.200.580.182.7850.00
Kiwi0.990.171.4692.70211.00
Lemon0.030.1553.0251.00
Lettuce37.706.150.229.1790.00
Mango0.680.9036.42101.00
Melon0.060.0218.0056.00
Mint267–28350.00–60.0014.00–48.00690.00
Mushroom2.140.0164.00
Nectarine0.380.775.4096.006.8
Onion0.020.027.3827.00
Orange0.330.1853.2057.00
Parsley182–20310.620.75133.0077.001.50
Peach0.320.736.62133.004.8
Pear0.060.124.29178.00
Pineapple0.0350.01847.881.00
Plum0.300.269.5174.00–375.0019.0
Potato0.010.0119.73163.00
Purple basil152.5012.21131.00–269.00
Radish0.0214.8079.00
Red apple0.070.2419.80347.0012.3
Red currant0.101.3240.98503.00
Red cabbage1.020.1162.00–72.60231.00322
Red grape0.110.193.1880.28 ± 4.3226.7
Red grapefruit2.120.1331.21214.00
Red leaf lettuce6.220.143.57111.002.2
Red onion48.0048.5
Red pepper0.961.6334.50255.007.65a
Rocket salad57.505.000.5015.00125.00
Scallion106.001.740.5518.80141.00
Sour cherry0.860.0710.00162.00–312.0045–109a
Spinach108.0011.502.0328.00205.00
Strawberry0.030.2958.80332.0020–60
Tomato4.260.5413.7080.00
Watermelon4.920.058.1259.00
Yellow pepper1.020.4892.96216.00
Zucchini9.902.240.1217.9026.00
Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7473347/

I’ll conclude with saying that ensuring our meals are full of differently colored fruits and vegetables, vegetables more than fruits, is sufficient to keep us well nourished from different points of view.

References

  1. 1.
    Cömert E, Mogol B, Gökmen V. Relationship between color and antioxidant capacity of fruits and vegetables. Curr Res Food Sci. 2019;2:1-10. doi:10.1016/j.crfs.2019.11.001
  2. 2.
    Hidalgo G, Almajano M. Red Fruits: Extraction of Antioxidants, Phenolic Content, and Radical Scavenging Determination: A Review. Antioxidants (Basel). 2017;6(1). doi:10.3390/antiox6010007
  3. 3.
    He J, Giusti MM. Anthocyanins: Natural Colorants with Health-Promoting Properties. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. Published online April 2010:163-187. doi:10.1146/annurev.food.080708.100754
  4. 4.
    Pérez-Gálvez A, Viera I, Roca M. Carotenoids and Chlorophylls as Antioxidants. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(6). doi:10.3390/antiox9060505
  5. 5.
    Di G, Tzortzakis N, Rouphael Y, et al. Grown to be Blue-Antioxidant Properties and Health Effects of Colored Vegetables. Part II: Leafy, Fruit, and Other Vegetables. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(2). doi:10.3390/antiox9020097

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