Quick Bite: Eat fruits, vegetables of all colors for heart health

Allie Hardy, registered dietitian

By Allie Hardy
Registered Dietitian for the Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center

Do fruits and vegetables of a certain color most protect one’s heart? Each color of fruits and vegetables indicates the type of phytochemical and health benefits it provides. A phytochemical is an element naturally found in plants that protects against various bacteria, fungi and viruses. They are not found in supplements.

Strawberries at Barefoot Farm in Dover Township

Load up on red berries to protect your body from free radicals — a cause of degenerative diseases. (Daily Record/Sunday News — Jason Plotkin)

According to Harvard School of Public Health, “There is compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.” The Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study followed 110,000 adult men and women for 14 years, studying their diets and intake patterns.

The study determined that participants who ate eight-plus servings of fruits and veggies per day were 30 percent less likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke compared with participants who consumed fewer than 1.5 servings per day. The study results encourage consumption of fruits and veggies across the board, but identify leafy and cruciferous greens — think kale, bok choy, broccoli and Brussels sprouts — as well as citrus — grapefruits, oranges and lemons — as being particularly beneficial to one’s heart health.

By choosing produce in a variety of hues, you are more likely to consume an even distribution of phytochemicals and antioxidants to help protect your heart and keep it healthy.

Here’s a breakdown of the nutritional rainbow.

– Red fruits such as raspberries or red grapes contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that help to protect our hearts from damage by limiting cell damage from free radicals. Rosy red tomatoes also contain lycopene, which can help to reduce the risk of heart attacks. Lycopene is most effective when the tomatoes are cooked.

– Orange and yellow fruits and veggies such as sweet potatoes, apricots, peaches or carrots boast cardio-protective carotenoids. There are many types of carotenoids, which help to protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals can expose tissues to damage and raise the risk for the development of cardiovascular disease.

– Green veggies get a powerful boost from carotenoids and lutein, both of which have been linked to preventing heart disease. Avocados are a great choice because their healthy fats aid in the absorption of carotenoids from other sources, like brightly colored peppers and leafy greens.

– Blue and purple produce such as figs, plums and blueberries get their deep color from
anthocyanins, similar to the antioxidants that are found in red foods. They also contain
phenolics and are known for their abilities to improve circulation and prevent blood clots.

– White and brown fruits and veggies such as garlic, mushrooms and bananas credit anthoxanthins for their antioxidant prowess. Anthoxanthins contain allicin, which helps to combat heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.

What’s your favorite color of fruit or vegetable to eat?

Leigh Zaleski

I'm a health features reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News and healthy living blogger for No Sweat, York. Contact me with story ideas at lzaleski@ydr.com, 717-771-2101 or @leighzaleski on Twitter.

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