In addition to being naturally low in calories and high in fiber, colorful fruits and vegetables contain cancer fighting substances and provide your body with nutritious, disease preventing vitamins and minerals. Each colored fruit or vegetable contains a different phytochemical, or plant based chemical, that can decrease the risk of certain types of cancer. For maximum health benefits, you should eat a variety of vegetables and fruits of different colors. Your goal should be to eat at least four or five servings of variously colored fruits or vegetables per day.
A Full Spectrum of Health Benefits
The following is a list of some of the phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables that can reduce your risks of cancer and heart disease:
A carotenoid, or plant pigment, in the same family as beta carotene, lycopene gives many fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, their deep red color. Lycopene has powerful antioxidant properties that have been shown to fight different forms of cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, fruits and vegetables that contain lycopene, particularly tomatoes, may help to prevent prostate cancer, as well as colon, stomach, lung, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers. Lycopene has also been linked with a lower risk of heart attacks secondary to coronary artery disease.
This powerful antioxidant with cancer fighting properties is found in sweet potatoes, which are also high in dietary fiber, as well as vitamins C and E. Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, bok choy, and other greens are great sources of beta carotene. Orange and deep yellow fruits and vegetables such as pumpkins, papaya, apricots, cantaloupe, mango, winter squash, and carrots also have considerable amounts of beta carotene.
This group of phytochemicals is found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains. For instance, grapes contain a substance called transresveratrol, which is found primarily in the grape’s skin. Resveratrol, which is also present in grape juice and red wine, has been shown to be instrumental in fighting cancer of the colon, liver, and breast. Resveratrol inhibits the growth of cancer by preventing the start of DNA damage in a cell and the transformation of a normal cell into a cancerous cell. It also helps to inhibit the growth and spread of tumor cells. Recent medical research indicates that resveratrol has cardio-protective properties as well.
This acid, present in many types of fruits, vegetables, and grains, appears to reduce the DNA damage caused by carcinogens such as tobacco smoke and air pollution. Berries contain high amounts of ellagic acid, and as little as one cup of raspberries or blueberries slowed the growth of abnormal colon cells in humans and, in some cases, prevented or destroyed the development of cells that were infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer. This particular cancer fighting agent has also been demonstrated to have similar effects on the cancer cells of the breast and pancreas in animal testing.
Members of the allium family of plants contain compounds known as allyl sulfides that are instrumental in activating enzymes in the body that break down certain cancer causing substances and increase the body’s ability to excrete them. Examples of the allium family include garlic, onions, shallots, and leeks. Many studies have shown that people who eat lots of garlic have less cancer of the stomach and colon and that garlic inhibits the growth of new cancer cells.
Cruciferous vegetables get their name from their four petaled flowers, which resemble crosses, and include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. Vegetables in this family contain indoles, phytonutrients that help to fight cancer. Studies have shown that people who eat an abundance of cruciferous vegetables, particularly broccoli, have a reduced incidence of many types of cancer, including cancer of the colon, bladder, prostate, esophagus, lung, breast, cervix, and larynx.
These are plant pigments present in cherries, purple grapes and purple grape juice, raspberries, and strawberries that help to protect against heart disease.
These are antioxidant plant pigments that are converted to vitamin A by the body and include beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids reduce the risk of age related macular degeneration that leads to blindness. Green beans, collard, kale, mustard, turnip, Romaine and other dark lettuces, seaweed, spinach, and winter squash are important sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.
The plant chemicals known as isoflavones act as weak estrogens (phytoestrogens). Eating approximately 100 milligrams of isoflavones daily can improve bone density. Good sources of isoflavones are soy milk, soy protein, tofu, and textured vegetable proteins.
One of the B vitamins, folic acid helps prevent birth defects and lowers levels of homocysteine, which is an amino acid related to folic acid that has been linked to heart disease. Excellent sources of folic acid include oranges, broccoli, Romaine and other dark lettuces, and spinach.
As you can see, phytochemicals are a rainbow of multiple colors, and each of these colorful fruits and vegetables offers a full spectrum of disease prevention.