Antioxidants: What the Rainbow Colors of Your Fruits & Veggies Are Actually Telling You

Ever wonder what gives fruits and vegetables such vibrant colors? The red of tomatoes, purple of eggplants and green of kiwis? It’s the phytochemicals (aka “plant-chemicals”) which are natural plant pigments. They work together with nutrients in the fruit and veggies to provide various health benefits and, most importantly, they have antioxidant properties.

What are antioxidants?

To put it very simply, antioxidants are a substance that prevent cell damage. Major cell damage can reduce your body’s ability to protect itself from diseases, cancer and premature aging, among many other things.

How does this happen?

Free radicals, which are weakened molecules in your body. Free radicals react quickly in attempts to strengthen themselves by weakening the molecules around them.

This process is known as oxidation.

To put this in perspective, think of your car engine. In order for your car to run, it needs to burn (or oxidize) the fuel. This creates energy and heat, and the heat would destroy the car if there wasn’t a cooling system (antioxidant) to keep it within normal operating temperature.

Can I completely avoid free radicals by eating really healthy?

No. Free radicals are naturally created by your immune system and during metabolism. Exposure to pollution, sunlight, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides can also create free radicals in your body.

Antioxidants = Against Oxidation

So again, to put it really simply, antioxidants prevent oxidation by strengthening the weakened molecules before they have weakened another molecule. Antioxidants are so important in your body because if they are unavailable, a free radical chain reaction can occur, resulting in a disruption of a living cell. If this happens your body is left unhealthy and unprotected.

Produce Color = Antioxidant

The color of your fruit and veggies is a hint of which antioxidants are in them, therefore if you know what each color means, you can begin to understand what the potential health benefits are:

Red = Lycopene
An antioxidant that helps keep your heart healthy and protects against some cancers.

Orange/Yellow = Beta-Carotene
An antioxidant that, when digested, is converted into vitamin A, contributing to healthy eyes and a strong immune system.

Green = Chlorophyll
An antioxidant that works together with other vitamins and minerals to help the body protect itself against cancer.

Blue/Purple = Anthocyanin
An antioxidant that can help boost the immune system and reduce the risk of cancer.

So go ahead, taste the rainbow! Eat as wide a variety of colored fruits and veggies as possible.

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Sources:

http://gentleworld.org/phytochemicals-eating-from-the-rainbow/
http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/eat-rainbow
http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/110308p34.shtml