We are always told that we should fill our plates with all the colors of the rainbow. As much as we might wish meats and carbs alone could fulfill this adage, only fruits and veggies offer the requisite diversity of color. Aside from being visually pleasing, a colorful diet ensures that our body receives the wide variety of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals found only in these plants. Phytochemicals are non-caloric nutrients that reflect certain parts of the light spectrum, and in turn, absorb the opposite side of the light spectrum. Thus, fruits and veggies take on a certain color due to their specific phytochemical make-up.
If you’re in the midst of planning a home garden, then it would be a neat idea to grow at least one plant of each of the five major color categories. For example, you could plant some garlic cloves (white) next to your cosmic purple carrot seeds (purple), which will protect them from pests. Then, use your remaining yard space for a row of romaine lettuce and swiss chard (green).
Buy a few pots to grow peppers on the porch (orange), and finally, hang pretty little strawberry plants above them (red). Of course, these aren’t the only fruits and veggies in these colors, and you can choose what to plant according to your taste. Below you’ll find a helpful summary of each food color’s nutritional significance, as well as a few other colorful plant ideas for your garden.
The purple color group is somewhat diverse, given that it also includes blue, brown and some reddish-purple plants as well. Fruits and vegetables wearing the darker end of the light spectrum contain flavonoids and a phytonutrient called anthocyanin. Flavonoids have been shown to host a slew of health benefits, such as improving brain health and blood flow, while anthocyanins prevent cancerous cell mutation.
Purple fruits and vegetables include:
- Grapes and wine
- Purple kale
- Berries: blackberries, blueberries, cranberries
- Red cabbage
- Black rice
- Dark chocolate, cocoa
As they always say, the darker the green, the more nutrients it offers. Dark green vegetables are rich in vitamins A, E, K and C, in addition to fiber, potassium, folate, iron, magnesium, and calcium. While many of these nutrients come from other sources, too, glucosinolates are unique to greens. These sulfur-rich glucosides are not only antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal, but they also remove cancerous substances from the body, considerably reducing the risk of cancer. No wonder the doctor recommends getting five servings of greens per day!
A few fruits and veggies belonging to the green group are:
- Broccoli, rapini and cauliflower
- Brussel sprouts
- Green cabbage
- Green kale
- Turnips and turnip greens
- Bok choy
- Salad greens: lettuce, spinach, watercress, mesclun, etc.
- Chard and collards
Yellow & Orange
The yellow-green portion of this category gets its color from carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. Not only do these substances provide antioxidative properties, but they are also essential to the production of vitamin A. This singular vitamin aids your white blood cells and immune system, enhances bone growth, tempers cell growth, and improves vision. Foods on the more orange side of the spectrum are also high in beta-cryptoxanthin, which is an anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antihistamine.
Yellow or orange produce include:
- Sweet and hot peppers
- Sweet potatoes
- Squash and pumpkins
Red fruits and vegetables are another great source of carotenoids, antioxidants, vitamin C and A, potassium and iron. They are imbued with one carotenoid in particular: lycopene, which helps with cell-to-cell transmissions and prostate health.
Some red-bearing plants to grow are:
- Red onion
- Red lettuce
Last but not least, the white group comprises light green and colorless plants, which are just as impactful as their more vibrant comrades in keeping you healthy. They often contain vitamins C, E, K and B, as well as potassium, calcium and other minerals. Most wonderfully, they are chock-full of flavonoids, a type of super-antioxidant that prevents cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
The white category consists of veggies like:
- Napa cabbage
When making preparations for a home garden, it’s crucial to consider the nutritional diversity of your choice of crops. Have you ever had gigantic bunches of kale that you didn’t know what to do with? Did you ever finish off the season with baskets upon baskets of tomatoes that you couldn’t give away quickly enough? While it’s terrific that you’re getting plenty of greens and reds, you may be lacking in other vital phytonutrients — like the flavonoids of purples and whites, the carotenes of yellows and oranges, or the glucosinolates of dark greens.
Instead of ending up with a massive amount of one type of vegetable by accident, we can spend a few minutes planning what to grow for a more balanced harvest. Not only will your body thank you for the full rainbow in your tummy, but your polychromatic garden will be a pleasureful sight to behold, too.