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It’s important to eat a diet that includes a wide range of colorful fruits, veggies, and other foods. This helps to ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need, and it provides significant amounts of other potentially beneficial compounds, like antioxidants.

So what better way to brighten your holiday meals than by incorporating more color?

This article reviews:

  • the benefits of eating a variety of colors
  • the antioxidants found in differently hued fruits and vegetables
  • some tips to create a colorful, produce-rich holiday plate

“Eating in color” is a way to describe including fruits and vegetables of many colors in your diet.

Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables influence their color, but they also provide a variety of health benefits. The different antioxidants provide slightly different health effects.

These phytochemicals — or plant compounds — may be linked to better health and a reduced risk of certain diseases, like type 2 diabetes or heart disease (1, 2).

This means that eating fruits and veggies from every color of the rainbow may help ensure your body is well nourished.

Additionally, fruits and vegetables are naturally rich in essential nutrients.

Summary

Eating a variety of colors from fruits and vegetables provides nutrients, but it also provides antioxidant pigments, which give fruits and vegetables their colors and offer positive health effects when consumed.

The holiday season presents a welcome opportunity for eating a bouquet of colorful fruits and vegetables, many of which are excellent choices to complement seasonal meals.

Below is a brief review of the key antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables of different colors. However, it’s important to note that all these fruits and vegetables also contain varying levels of other antioxidants, along with essential nutrients — making them excellent health-promoting choices.

Red

Bright red produce (like tomatoes) gets much of its pigment from the antioxidant lycopene, while darker red produce (like beets) is rich in anthocyanins.

Lycopene appears to play a role in reducing oxidative stress, which is caused by harmful free radical compounds. It has been linked to improved prostate health and a reduced risk of prostate cancer (3, 4).

Anthocyanins found in dark red fruits and vegetables may provide anti-inflammatory effects and assist with weight management. They also provide some heart-health and cognitive benefits (5, 6).

Red fruits and vegetables for holiday meals (7, 8):

  • red bell pepper
  • pomegranate
  • grapefruit
  • beets
  • cranberries
  • raspberries
  • radishes

Orange and yellow

Orange and yellow fruits get their color from carotenoids, which are the antioxidant precursors of vitamin A found in plant foods. Your body is able to convert some of these carotenoids, like beta carotene, into vitamin A (also known as retinol) (9).

Additionally, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin make up the pigments in the eye, so a diet rich in them may play a role in vision preservation (9).

Carotenoids may also help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve heart health, and preserve brain function during aging (9).

Seasonal orange and yellow fruits and vegetables for holiday meals (7, 8):

  • carrots
  • oranges
  • pumpkin
  • sweet potato
  • lemons

Green

Green produce gets its pigment from the antioxidant chlorophyll, but it’s also rich in other antioxidants — notably carotenoids. However, the green color of chlorophyll can mask the red, orange, and yellow pigments of carotenoids.

According to some early test-tube studies, chlorophyll may provide anticancer benefits. However, studies that include human participants are needed to better understand its role (10).

Cruciferous greens like broccoli and cabbage contain different types of antioxidants, like glucosinolates, along with a compound called sulforaphane. It provides the strong odor of these vegetables, but it also has antioxidant, cell-protective, and liver-protective effects (11, 12).

Seasonal green fruits and vegetables for holiday meals (7, 8):

  • cabbage
  • collard greens
  • kale
  • peas
  • Brussels sprouts
  • kiwi
  • green grapes

Blue and purple

Like red produce, blue and purple fruits and veggies get their color from anthocyanins.

These powerful antioxidants may prevent cell damage, which can offer a variety of health-promoting benefits (5, 6).

Seasonal blue and purple fruits and vegetables for holiday meals (7, 8):

  • rutabagas
  • turnips
  • grapes
  • purple carrots
  • red lettuce varieties

White and brown

White and brown produce contain pigments called anthoxanthins.

Anthoxanthins may help to reduce inflammation and free radical levels in the brain, promoting improved brain health and providing potentially protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of cognitive decline (13).

Seasonal white and brown fruits and vegetables for holiday meals (7, 8):

  • parsnips
  • onions
  • potatoes
  • cauliflower
  • mushrooms
Summary

Different colors of fruits and vegetables indicate that they contain different key antioxidants, which provide their pigment and may offer some unique potential health benefits.

There are many ways to expand the colors in your diet when it comes to planning holiday meals:

  • Choose one selection from each color group. Use the list above to guide you in your meal preparation during the holidays. To ensure a meal with a variety of colors of produce, choose at least one food from each color group. You can get more bang for your color buck by combining foods, such as making a fruit salad with some reds, oranges, greens, and blues.
  • Add veggies to dishes. Have a favorite casserole, stew, or soup that you’re making this holiday season? Challenge yourself to add more vegetables if few are called for in the original recipe. Vegetables with neutral flavors and colors — like cauliflower and mushrooms — are particularly good for adding to casseroles and soups. Heartier veggies like carrots and cabbage are great in stews and will hold up well in slow-cooked dishes.
  • Bake with fruit purees. If you’re baking desserts this holiday season, you can replace some or all the oil with prune puree or applesauce. This reduces fat and calorie content while increasing fiber, and it adds moisture to the recipe.
  • Select your greens. When you make a side salad for your holiday dinner, don’t stop with iceberg lettuce. Try a variety of leafy green and add chopped veggies from several color groups to round out your salad.
  • Buy frozen or canned. Choosing fresh produce may seem like the only way to enjoy the benefits of fruits and vegetables, but that is not true. Choosing the canned or frozen versions allows you to have your favorites even when they’re out of season. Sometimes the frozen varieties may even be more nutrient dense as they were picked at peak ripeness. Just make sure that the label only lists the fruit or vegetable and no other ingredients.
Summary

To add color to your holiday meals, include a variety of different types of fruits and vegetables, add vegetables to your recipes when possible, bake using fruit, and use a mixture of leafy greens for your salad.

A holiday menu loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables of all colors can be equally delicious and nutritious, and it makes for attractive meals that will wow your dinner guests.

Aim to plan holiday menus featuring a variety of fruits and vegetables so that your plate is bursting with color, nutrients, and antioxidants.

Get creative and add colorful produce to as many dishes as possible. Make it flavorful and enjoy the colors of the season!

Just one thing

Try this today: Homemade cranberry sauce is an attractive dark red hue and can be made with fresh green herbs and orange slices to add color, as well as nutrient and antioxidant variety. It’s a perfect holiday side dish, and the homemade version can be made with a lower sugar content than canned versions.