There are at least 5 reasons the color of fruit is important. Today, let's briefly discuss phytochemicals and their role in making fruits colorful.
In addition to giving beautiful colors to fruit, phytochemicals are key for optimal health. But, what exactly is a phytochemical?
Also called, “phytonutrients,” phytochemicals are important compounds found in all plants. Phytochemicals are what protect plants from fungus, germs, bugs, and disease. These compounds, though not currently considered “essential,” have been shown to have protective effects on humans as well. Five of the most well known phytonutrients are beta-carotenes, lycopenes, anthoxanthins, and anthocyanins.
Note that no fruit or plant contains only one type of phytochemical. The ones discussed are the predominant type found in particular fruits, and are discussed separately to keep things simple.
The pigment that makes the color of fruits, including mangoes and lemons, orange or yellow, is a form of vitamin A. Beta-carotene is part of the “carotenoid” family, which includes other phytochemicals to be discussed in more depth later. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, and has been shown to have anti-aging and anti-cancer effects. As a source of vitamin A, Beta-carotene is also important for healthy eyes and skin.
Lycopenes make fruit, such as watermelon and raspberries, red, and are also part of the “carotenoid” family. These pigments are excellent sources of vitamin A. Lycopenes are important for healthy eyes and skin, and are associated with reduced risk of cancer, especially prostrate cancer.
These pigments are powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants are what protect us from environmental damage, damage from the sun, and from toxic substances such as second hand smoke. Antioxidants also help us to fight off infection and illness. Anthoxanthins are found in “colorless” or white fruits, such as coconut, apples and pears.
Anthocyanins give the color of fruit blue, purple and red, and are also powerful antioxidants. Purple and blue fruits are good for healthy brain, bones, and arteries. This is largely because of the presence of anthocyanins.
Is found in every green plant, because Chlorophyll makes plants green.
In basic biology, we learn that Chlorophyll is the chemical that gives plants the ability to convert carbon dioxide and water. A process known as “photosynthesis,” Chlorophyll is also what enables plants to receive the energy from the sun, and to produce glucose (sugar) and oxygen.
The “Mg” smack dab in the middle of the molecule is none other than magnesium. I think that is so cool! And for you techy types, the “Cs” are carbon atoms, which are the building blocks of carbohydrates. The “Ns” are nitrogen atoms, which are the building blocks of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.
In addition to magnesium, green plants are high in vitamin A, C, B6, and fiber. Green fruits rich in these nutrients include green grapes, limes, and kiwi fruit.
Source of Chlorophyll molecule diagram: http://www.dyarrow.org/
Back to phytonutrients…
Since limited research has been done on phytonutrients (though more is happening as I speak), there is still very little we know about what it is exactly that makes an orange or a raspberry healthier than a supplement that contains the known vitamins and phytonutrients.
Whole Food versus Supplements
This is why it is important to consume the whole food as much as possible. Supplements usually contain isolated nutrients in an attempt to target certain beneficial ingredients (and to make money). For example, you can buy Lycopene by itself in supplement form. While the lycopene supplement may have something good to offer, it is not the whole raspberry or tomato. So, there is no way it can be as good for you as the full tomato. Supplements are man-made, and raspberries and other fruits are made by our loving Creator. So, it is nearly always going to be more beneficial for you to eat the whole foods over the supplements.
As for encouraging your family to eat more fruits, and to get your preschoolers started, here is a simple and fun matching activity I think they (and you) will enjoy. Click here to see it.
Honey-Lime Fruit Salad
- 4 cups Cut up fruit 4 different colors is best
- 2 tbsp Lime Juice Fresh is best
- 2 tbsp Honey
- 1/4 teaspoon poppy seed Found in Spice Aisle of most grocery stores
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- Just before adding dressing:Cut up 4 (four) cups of desired fruits.To make Dressing:Mix lime juice, honey, cornstarch and poppy seed in small saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Usually no more than 5 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.Toss dressing with fruit and serve. Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled as needed.