Did you know that eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables can have amazing benefits, including lowering your risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and several forms of cancer? What’s more, eating certain vegetables may be linked to better memory and longer life, recent studies suggest.
Yet fewer than one in ten adults eat the recommended amount of these nutritional powerhouses, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). One easy way to reach your goal: fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. For a full spectrum of health benefits, include these colors in your daily diet:
Red. Lycopene is the pigment that gives some fruits, such as tomatoes, their ruby hue. Several studies suggest that tomatoes, which are also high in disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins A and C, folic acid, and beta carotene, have surprisingly powerful benefits for vascular health, including reducing levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol (the kind that can form plaque in the coronary arteries) in both healthy people and those with type 2 diabetes. Eating tomatoes or tomato products is also linked to reductions in blood pressure and inflammation. A large study also found that high consumption of lycopene from tomatoes was associated with a 65% reduction in stroke risk.
Purple and blue. These colors results 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 Nurses’ Health Study reported that women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries had slower rates of cognitive decline and lower heart attack risk than those who ate the least. A 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.
Green. Two Harvard studies of nearly 110,000 men and women found that people who ate 8 or more servings of fruits and veggies daily were 30% less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, compared to those who ate less than 1.5 servings. While all produce contributed to this benefit, the studies found that leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce and mustard greens) and cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels spouts) were particularly beneficial for lowering risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading killer of Americans. People who eat a diet high in fiber (found in most fruits and vegetables) have a 56% to 59% lower risk of dying from CVD, infectious disease, or respiratory disorders, according to a study of nearly 400,000 people ages 50 and older.
Yellow and orange. The Harvard studies discussed above also found that citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit, also make important contributions to reducing heart attack and stroke risk. These fruits contain citrus liminoids that have been shown to help fight cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, stomach, and colon in lab tests and may help lower cholesterol. Some yellow fruits, such as pineapples, contain bromelain, a mixture of enzymes that have been used for centuries to treat indigestion and fight inflammation.