Food is Medicine

By Sarah Pounders

The latest medical advice mimics recommendations given by Hippocrates thousands of years ago: "Let food be your medicine." Mounting research confirms that consuming fruits and vegetables provides health benefits beyond supplying vitamins and minerals. Researchers who study phytonutrients natural health-promoting chemicals found in plants are publishing studies at a rapid rate that indicate a connection between phytonutrients and decreased inflammation, cancer prevention, decreased risk of heart disease, improved memory, and lowered blood sugar levels.

On a scientific level, these phytonutrients work in your body in a number of ways. Scientists don't fully understand all the biochemical mechanisms involved. But what matters most is the consistent, simple message that has emerged: Fruits and vegetables are good for you, so eat more of them!

There is no single 'miracle' phytonutrient to consume for good health. Research reveals a wide variety of these plant chemicals present in various fruits and vegetables. When you're reading a magazine article about them, it's easy to get bogged down trying to remember which pigment or compound offers which benefits. Nutrition educators have hit on a handy way to help consumers put this information to practical use: Eat a Rainbow!

Many of the phytonutrients are also pigments that are responsible for the colors of fruits and vegetables, so rather than trying to remember long chemical names, you can just group the fruits and vegetables by color. The chart below, provided by the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University, lists some examples.

Color Associated Nutrients

Linked with these Health Benefits

Fruit & Vegetable Sources


Strengthened collagen proteins; prevention of lung, prostate, and stomach cancer

strawberries, tomatoes, cherries, watermelon, red grapefruit
Orange liminoids
Protection against chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema; reduced risk of cataracts and lung cancer; decreased cholesterol levels carrots, squash, citrus, melons


See Orange, plus: Protection of vision; prevention of tumors in the colon, breast, and prostate gland

yellow peppers, corn, legumes
Green lutein
Protection of vision; maintenance of heart and skin health; increased enzyme activity to detoxify carcinogens; prevention of cancer; lowered lipid levels

spinach, collard greens, broccoli, tomatillos
Blue anthocyanins Strengthened collagen protiens, prevention of colon, cervical, and prostate cancer

blueberries, grapes, plums
Purple anthocyanins Strengthened collagen protiens, prevention of cancer; anti-inflamatory and analgesic benefits grapes, raspberries, eggplant

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