Eating the rainbow - what are the benefits of red plant foods?March 31, 2023
Curious about the health benefits of phytonutrients from rich, vibrant red fruits, vegetables and spices?
When it comes to eating a healthy diet, there’s no reason why it can’t also look appetising. In fact, making your plate as vibrant and pleasing to the eye as possible is one major way to boost your intake of vitamins, minerals and powerful plant compounds called phytonutrients that boost the body’s natural antioxidant defence system. Phytonutrients not only imbue foods with every colour of the rainbow but also provide their flavour, smell and many of their health benefits. Red plant foods contain a unique profile of phytonutrients that can support your health in some surprising ways.
Keep scrolling to learn about the benefits of including more red plant foods on your plate.
What are the benefits of red fruits, vegetables and spices?
Red foods are rich in a range of phytonutrient compounds but are particularly high in lycopene and anthocyanins.
Lycopene is a type of carotenoid or “pro-vitamin A”, making it particularly beneficial for healthy eyesight, as well as brain and heart health. As a potent antioxidant, lycopene should be included every day to prevent the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) - unstable molecules that can build up in the body, damaging cells and tissues and eventually causing inflammation.1
Anthocyanins are the other major phytonutrient in red foods with inflammation-fighting antioxidant properties similar to lycopene, but there are also some key differences; Anthocyanins protect DNA from becoming damaged which can have an epigenetic influence - this is particularly important if you are planning on having children in the near future. The role that anthocyanins play in a detoxification pathway called Nrf2 means that they help to support the liver’s efforts.2,3 (maybe there’s more to that lycopene-rich bloody mary hangover cure than originally thought!)
What are some of the best red foods to include in your diet every day?
Enjoy one to two serves of any of these foods every day for optimal health:
- Goji berries
- Red apples
- Pink grapefruit
- Red capsicum
- Red grapes
- Beetroot and beetroot sprouts
- Red onion
- Red cabbage
- Kidney beans
- Red rice
- Hibiscus tea
- Rooibos tea
- Spices such as saffron, sumac, paprika, chilli and cayenne pepper
Ways to include more red plant foods in your diet
Including some of these foods in your daily meals doesn’t have to be difficult - you probably already eat many dishes that include one or two of the above.
Anthocyanins are water-soluble, so you can enjoy them on their own or as part of a meal.
Lycopene, on the other hand, requires fat for absorption. Here are some easy examples of ways to enjoy lycopene-rich foods with a healthy fat source:
- Spaghetti with a simple tomato marinara sauce, drizzled with olive oil
- Mixed salad with radishes and crisp red capsicum slices with an avocado oil and balsamic dressing
- A snack of sliced watermelon and berries with coconut yoghurt
- Sliced red apple with almond butter
- A cup of hibiscus or rooibos tea and a square of dark chocolate (for the antioxidants!)
Learn more about the benefits of green, blue/purple, yellow/orange, and white plant foods over at the blog.
- Bin-Jumah, M.N., Nadeem, M.S., Gilani, S.J., Mubeen, B., Ullah, I., et al. (2022). Lycopene: A natural arsenal in the war against oxidative stress and cardiovascular diseases. Antioxidants (Basel), 11(2): 232. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8868303/
- Groh, I.A.M., Bakuradze, T., Pahkle, G., Richling, E. & MArko, D. (2020). Consumption of anthocyanin-rich beverages affects Nrf2 and Nrf2-dependent gene transcription in peripheral lymphocytes and DNA integrity of healthy volunteers. BMC Chemistry, 14: 39. https://bmcchem.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13065-020-00690-6
- Pall, M.L. & Levine, S. (2015). Nrf2, a master regulator of detoxification and also antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other cytoprotective mechanisms, is raised by health promoting factors. Sheng Li Xue Bao, 67(1): 1-18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25672622/#:~:text=Nrf2%20produces%20cytoprotection%20by%20detoxification,inflammatory