You've heard the "eat the rainbow" saying a million times. As kids we were told to fill our plates with foods of every color, and that a bright red tomato had different nutritional value than an orange carrot. Every fruit and vegetable adds value in different ways to our diets, so if you eat a rainbow of produce you should be good to go, right? Not quite.
If you've recently walked around your supermarket's produce section, you've probably noticed your favorite veggies are now coming in more than one color. Crisp, white heads of cauliflower can now be found in hues of purple, yellow, and green, and bags of potatoes are popping up in yellow, red, and purple varieties. This got us thinking: Does the color of the veg affect its nutrition value?
The answer is clear—color totally matters. The colors of produce come from the phytochemicals in plants reflecting light on the visible spectrum. This gives fruits and vegetables their color and provides health benefits that work together with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber of the food. Because the colors don't truly affect the nutrition label you'd see at the supermarket, you might not notice much of a difference. But the same food in different shades brings new antioxidants and occasionally a higher value of a vitamin or mineral.
We looked into some of the most common multicolored produce to give you a rundown of what's changing between the colors of the rainbow.
The two main colors of summer squash are yellow and green, more commonly called zucchini. The two colors provide similar nutritional value, but vary greatly in their antioxidants. Green foods are full of glucosinolates, which may reduce the risk of cancer. It's generally recommended to steam or eat green vegetables raw to retain the optimal benefits.
Yellow-green foods, like a yellow summer squash, contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help reduce the risk for heart disease. Plus, both yellow and green foods are known for high amounts of vitamin C.
Tomatoes are most often found in the obvious red color, but there are really three other color varieties on the market (hello, fried green tomatoes). Red tomatoes often have high amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps with cell communication, plus folate, vitamin C, and vitamin A.
According the USDA, red tomatoes provide more vitamin A than any other color tomato. Yellow tomatoes provide the most phosphorus of all tomato colors. Green tomatoes provide the highest amount of vitamin C of all tomato colors and orange tomatoes provide significantly more vitamin A than other colors. The one thing they have in common - tomatoes in general provide a good amount of potassium, a mineral that may help alleviate harmful effects of sodium on blood pressure.
The main difference is that golden beets have significantly higher amounts of vitamin C than red beets, according to the USDA. Foods with an orange-yellow color have the phytochemical beta-cryptoxanthin with additional antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine properties.
You've definitely seen white cauliflower, but variations of purple, yellow, orange, and green also exist in the supermarket. All cauliflower is rich in vitamin C and K, but purple cauliflower in particular has the antioxidant anthocyanin.
Purple and yellow potatoes tend to by more nutritious than their white counterparts. Purple potatoes have four times more antioxidants than a regular baking potato, specifically high amounts of anthocyanin, which can help prevent cell mutation and cancer. Colorful potatoes also have significantly more vitamin C, according to the USDA. All potatoes are high in potassium, which is good for blood pressure.
Red cabbage is slightly more nutritious than the average green cabbage. They contain the same antioxidant as other red-purple foods, called anthocyanin, and have higher amounts of vitamin C (even more than an orange). Red cabbage also has almost one and a half times more potassium than green cabbage, according to the USDA.
Red and yellow bell peppers have significantly more vitamin C and folate than green bell peppers, according to the USDA. Bite into a red bell pepper for alpha and beta carotene, which help create vitamin A and improve eyesight.
One thing green bell peppers has going for them is they are super good for your eyes. The green varieties have high amounts of vitamin A, plus lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants found in yellow-green vegetables that may decrease risk for eye disease.
So the next time you're in the market staring at a row of the same vegetable in different colors know this: The basic nutritional profile is the same, but there is a bit variety in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals depending on the color.