Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables has amazing benefits, including improved memory, weight loss, and lower risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and several types of cancer, studies suggest. Eating certain vegetables is even linked to a longer life.
Yet fewer than one in ten adults consume the recommended amount of these nutritional powerhouses, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which offers a handy online calculator to figure out how many fruits and vegetables you need daily.
Another easy way to meet your goal: fill half your plate with fruits and veggies at each meal. To enjoy a full spectrum of health benefits, include these colors in your daily diet:
Lycopene is the pigment that gives some fruits, such as tomatoes, their ruby hue. A new study links a tomato-rich diet to reduced risk for breast cancer. In the study, which included 70 post-menopausal women, those who ate tomato products containing at least 25 mg of lycopene daily showed higher levels of adiponectin, a hormone associated with lower risk of breast cancer in earlier studies.
“The advantages of eating plenty of tomatoes and tomato-based products, even for a short period, were clearly evident in our findings,” said the study author, Adana Llanos, PhD, MPH, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Rutgers University, in a statement. A number of other studies link high intake of foods containing lycopene to lower risk for cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration (a cause of vision loss in older adults), reports the Mayo Clinic.
These colors result from pigments called anthocyanins that may enhance brain health. Indeed, blueberries are often called “brain berries” because studies link them to reduced risk for age-related memory loss. For example, the long-running Nurses’ Health Study reported that older women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries had slower rates of cognitive decline than those who ate the least. A recent Harvard study also reports that resveratrol in red wine (as well as berries, grape skin, and peanuts) activates a protein that contributes to health and increased longevity in animals.
Cruciferous vegetables—such as arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and collard greens—contain compounds that have shown anti-cancer effects in studies of animals and cells, though effects in people are less clear, the National Cancer Institute reports.
Researchers have identified several ways in which the compounds, which include various carotenoids (such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin) may fight cancer: they protect cells from DNA damage, help deactivate carcinogens, kill viruses and bacteria, combat inflammation, and inhibit tumor cell migration (thus reducing risk that cancer will spread). Many green veggies are high in vitamin C, which has been shown to lower risk for colds in people who exercise heavily, such as marathon runners.
A surprising benefit of citrus fruit, such as oranges, is that it contains citrus liminoids that have been shown to help fight cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, stomach, and colon in lab tests with animal and human cells. The same team of scientists is also investigating liminoids’ potential cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Some yellow fruits, such as pineapples, contain bromelain, a mixture of enzymes that have been used for centuries to treat indigestion and inflammation. Some studies in humans suggest that it may reduce swelling and bruising, and shorten healing time after surgery or injuries.
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