I love the colour red. Red cars seem to go faster, red clothes look warmer and red sunsets are – just beautiful. Our blood is red and red may symbolise good fortune and luck in many Asian cultures.
Red symbolises passion, love and joy – red roses are the flower of choice on Valentine’s day.
What about red fruits and vegetables? How do they fit in to the features of red? Are they hot, spicy, passionate, lucky or just beautiful?
Let’s have a look at why red fruits and vegetable are so special and why they are beneficial to our health and should be included in our diet.
What are they?
All fruits and vegetables contain different phytochemicals that plants use to help protect them from predators and disease. Diets high in fruits and vegetables provide a range of phytochemicals that help to keep us healthy and allow us to fight disease.
There are many types of red fruits and vegetables and in turn many different types of phytochemicals, including beta-carotene and polyphenols including anthocyanins and flavonoids. Most fruits and vegetables contain multiple phytochemicals and loads of vitamins and minerals.
The amount of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in any particular fruit or vegetable is dependent on climate, growing and storage conditions and ripeness.
Why should I include red fruits/vegetables in my diet?
It’s best to include a range of coloured fruit and vegetables in our daily food intake – eat the rainbow.
Lets have a look at some examples of red fruit/vegetables and their some of their phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals:
- tomatoes – carotenoids (e.g. lycopene), polyphenols, vitamin C and smaller amounts many other vitamins and minerals (including B group, manganese, potassium and vitamin K)
- strawberries – polyphenols, vitamin C, mangasese and smaller amounts of other vitamins and minerals
- watermelon – carotenoids (e.g. lycopene), polyphenols, vitamin C and B6. Smaller amounts of magnesium and potassium
- raspberries – polyphenols, loads of manganese and vitamin C
- red apples (especially skin) – polyphenols, vitamin C and load of fibre (including pulp and skin)
- rhubarb – polyphenols
- red capsicum (aka sweet or bell pepper) – carotenoids, polyphenols, vitamin C
- red grapes – polyphenols, manganese, smaller amounts of potassium, vitamins C and B6
What are these phytochemicals?
Carotenoids – Also known as provitamin A (precursor of vitamin A). Common forms are – beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are converted to vitamin A within the digestion process and transported via lymph system or blood supply to the liver when there are metabolised. Lycopene is a strong antioxidant – did you know that cooked tomatoes have more lycopene than raw ones?
Functions – antioxidants that help quench free radicals. May also play a role in enhancing immune system function, help maintain retinal health (especially for macular degeneration), may help prevent LDL oxidation (reduce atherosclerotic plaque) and play a beneficial role in cell differentiation.
Polyphenols – there are many classes of polyphenols however the largest group are the flavonoids which in turn has many subclasses including flavonols, anthocyanins and isoflavones. Did you know that including some fat (like dairy or other healthy fats) helps with absorption of flavonoids within the gut?
Functions – The polyphenol family plays many roles in protecting our health, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – may help protect cells from free-radical damage and reduce insulin sensitivity.
Vitamins and minerals
- Vitamin C – antioxidant, may help with DNA protection (anti-cancer), infections, immune system and skin health
- potassium – macro mineral that helps balance water and acid in the blood and body tissues. Helps build muscle and metobolisation of proteins and carbohydrates
- manganese – bone formation, thyroid function, immune function, blood sugar regulation and calcium absorption
- vitamin K – blood clotting, bone formation and density
- B group – associated with stress management, cell proliferation, energy production and immune system function (and many other functions)
- magnesium – energy metabolism, muscle contraction, bone mineralisation, relaxes nerves and muscles.