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Nutrition

Fight Disease with Phytochemicals

Overview

The American Cancer Society recommends five to nine servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables per day for protection against cancer and for a plethora of other health benefits. One of the big components in these fruits and veggies are phytochemicals ("fight-o-chemicals"). These are substances that are naturally occurring in plants, and some of them may yield health benefits beyond those provided by essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Gene Krebs / Getty Images

How Phytochemicals Work

Eating a variety of colorful, phytochemical-rich fruits and vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of some chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Phytochemicals may act like antioxidants to help protect and regenerate essential nutrients and/or work to deactivate cancer-causing substances.

OK, but why not just take a phytochemical supplement? Well, it's thought that phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all present in fruits and vegetables, work synergistically in whole foods to promote health and lower disease risk. For this reason, many authoritative organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute and The American Heart Association, recommend getting phytochemicals from whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than from supplements.

Why Variety Matters

It's important to eat fruits and vegetables of many different colors since each color group carries unique benefits. If you eat at least one cup from each color group, you're on your way to getting your five servings per day. Below you'll find the stealth health benefits of each color group, as well as a list of fruits and veggies for each color. Try one or two new foods each week to reap the greatest rewards and keep your diet interesting.  

Blue and Purple

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of health-promoting phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and phenolics, which have been linked with great antioxidant and anti-aging benefits. Benefits include a lower risk of some cancers, urinary-tract health, improved memory function, and healthy aging.

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Black currants
  • Dried plums
  • Elderberries
  • Purple figs
  • Purple grapes
  • Plums
  • Raisins
  • Purple asparagus
  • Purple cabbage
  • Purple carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Purple Belgian endive
  • Purple peppers
  • Potatoes (purple fleshed)
  • Black salsify


Green

Green fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of potent phytochemicals such as lutein and indoles. Benefits include a lower risk of some cancers, vision health, and strong bones and teeth.

  • Avocados
  • Green apples
  • Green grapes
  • Honeydew
  • Kiwifruit
  • Limes
  • Green pears
  • Artichokes
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoflower
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Green beans
  • Green cabbage
  • Celery
  • Chayote squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Endive
  • Leafy greens
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Green onion
  • Okra
  • Peas
  • Green pepper
  • Snow peas
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Spinach
  • Watercress
  • Zucchini

White

White, tan, and brown fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of phytochemicals including allicin, which has been hot lately in the current research for promoting heart health.

  • Bananas
  • Brown pears
  • Dates
  • White nectarines
  • White peaches
  • Cauliflower
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Jicama
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes (white fleshed)
  • Shallots
  • Turnips
  • White corn

Yellow and orange

Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of antioxidants such as vitamin C as well as carotenoids and bioflavonoids. Benefits include heart health, vision health, stronger immune system, and a lower risk of some cancers.

  • Yellow apples
  • Apricots
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cape gooseberries
  • Yellow figs
  • Grapefruit
  • Golden kiwifruit
  • Lemon
  • Mangoes
  • Nectarines
  • Oranges
  • Papayas
  • Peaches
  • Yellow pears
  • Persimmons
  • Pineapples
  • Tangerines
  • Yellow watermelon
  • Yellow beets
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Yellow peppers
  • Yellow potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Rutabagas
  • Yellow summer squash
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yellow tomatoes
  • Yellow winter squash

Red

The phytochemicals in the red group include lycopene and anthocyanins. They can improve heart health, memory, urinary tract health, and lower your risk for some cancers.

  • Red apples
  • Blood oranges
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Red grapes
  • Pink/red grapefruit
  • Red pears
  • Pomegranates
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Beets
  • Red peppers
  • Radishes
  • Radicchio
  • Red onions
  • Red potatoes
  • Rhubarb
  • Tomatoes

Tags: Nutrients, Longevity, Health, Disease, Food

References

  1. The American Cancer Society
  2. National Cancer Institute
  3. The American Heart Association

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