The Many Colors of the Market

by Rebecca Smith

I am always amazed when I visit the Athens Farmers Market at all the bright colors that fill the booths every week. We all know that we need to eat a variety of colors in our diet, but why? What do the different colors mean nutritionally speaking? The colors of produce vary based on the phytonutrients they contain. Phytonutrients are not “essential” nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. They are defined as organic components of plants that are thought to promote human health.

Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and teas are rich sources of phytonutrients, and any one fruit or vegetable contains many different types of phytonutrients. The main pigments of fruits and vegetables include red, yellow/orange, green, blue/purple, and white/tan/brown. Each of these pigments corresponds to, and helps us visually understand, the phytonutrients contained in the fruit or vegetable. For example carotenoids are present in orange and yellow vegetables, flavonoids give blue, red, and cream colors, and chlorophyll provides the green colors. Each color compound contains its own health benefit and can serve as an indicator to an individual food’s overall nutritional value.

Here is some information about some of the different colored fruits and vegetables, as well as examples of what can be found at the market!

Red: Phytonutrients found in red vegetables include anthocyanins and lycopene (a carotenoid). These can be found in veggies like beets, radishes, red pepper, rhubarb, and tomatoes (all of which frequent the Athens Farmers Market!) These phytonutrients have been found to keep urinary tracts healthy, maintain a healthy heart, boost memory, and lower risk of cancer.

Yellow/Orange: Orange foods contain carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Veggies in this category include butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, summer squash, corn, sweet potatoes, and yellow peppers. Vitamin A helps support immune function, promotes bone growth, and helps regulate cell growth and differentiation. Vitamin A along with lutein and zeaxanthin (two other types of carotenoids) also support healthy vision.

Green: Dark green vegetables are packed with nutrients including potassium, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Some phytonutrients contained in green veggies include chlorophyll, carotenoids, and indoles. Chlorophyll may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and wound healing properties. Green foods high in carotenoids (especially lutein) include spinach and parsley. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, and turnips contain indoles. They also contain sulfur, which may activate destruction of cancer causing chemicals.  

Blue/Purple: Anthocyanins, flavonoids, and phenolics can be found in blue/purple fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins are commonly found in red/blue fruits such as raspberries and blueberries. Flavanoids found in berries may promote proper brain function and blood flow. Eggplant, purple cabbage, purple tomatoes, and red onion are other examples of the wide variety of blue/purple options at AFM. 

White/Tan/Brown: And you may think that since white veggies lack color that the same goes for their nutrition, but they contain allicin, which plays a role in blocking or eliminating certain toxins in the body produced by bacteria or viruses. White/tan/brown vegetables that can be found at the market include onions, garlic, cauliflower, artichokes, mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, and turnips.

Each differently colored fruit or vegetable has its own unique health benefit to offer. So take a healthy, beautiful, and tasty journey as you fill your bags with a rainbow of colors this week at the Athens Farmers Market!