By Tracey Roizman, D.C. Updated December 07, 2018
The wide array of bright colors that give fruits and vegetables their visual appeal come from three main types of pigment: carotenoids, which give orange and yellow vegetables their colors; flavonoids, which provide blue, red and cream colors; and chlorophyll, which makes greens green. These colorful compounds also provide health and nutrition benefits. Eating healthfully is simpler when you know what the colors of vegetables indicate about their nutritional value.
Red and Orange Vegetables
Red and orange fruits and vegetables are among the highest in vitamin C. A one-half-cup serving of red bell pepper provides 95 milligrams of vitamin C, which is about 25 milligrams more than a medium orange — the popular gold standard for vitamin C. One cup of strawberries contains 85 milligrams. However, some red fruits and vegetables are relatively low on the vitamin C scale, while some non-red vegetables are good vitamin C providers. A medium tomato, for example, contains 16 milligrams, much less than one-half cup of broccoli, which has 51 milligrams, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Dark Green Vegetables
When looking to boost your iron levels, go for the green, says nutritionist Reed Mangels, author of “The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book.” Spinach, for example, has 3.2 milligrams per one-half cup. Peas, collard greens and lima beans are also good sources. Keep in mind that the iron in plants, called non-heme iron, is not as easily absorbed as that from animal sources; you may need to eat more iron-containing vegetables to obtain the same amount of iron as if you ate meat.
Blue and Purple Vegetables
Blue and purple foods add interest to the color palate of your plate and also bring considerable nutritional value to the table. The blue compound that makes blueberries blue is a powerful antioxidant called anthocyanin that may protect against cancer and heart disease, according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. A study published in the Romanian Journal of Diabetes Nutrition and Metabolic Diseases in 2017 linked purple eggplant flour with reduced oxidative stress in hyperglycemic rats. Oxidative stress is linked with a range of diseases, including heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
White vegetables may not seem as colorful as others, but they can be highly nutritious. Cauliflower and turnips contain rich amounts of compounds known as glucosinolates, which may provide some protection against cancer. Garlic and onions contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which may play an important role in managing chronic inflammation. White beans are valuable sources of protein and fiber, as well as B-vitamins, potassium and iron.