A Reboot from the Archives of Carol Simmer, RDN
February is often associated with love and the color red. We wear red clothing and buy red roses and red heart-shaped boxes of candy for people we care about for Valentine’s Day. Many people also wear red in February in support of American Heart Month. (February 4th is National Wear Red Day to raise awareness about women’s heart health.) February is also a great month to focus on eating more red fruits and vegetables. Here is a long list from which to choose:
Red Apples Blood Oranges Cherries
Cranberries Red Grapes/Red Wine Pink/Red Grapefruit
Red Pears Pomegranates Raspberries
Strawberries Watermelon Radishes
Beets Red Peppers Red Potatoes
Radicchio Red Onions Tomatoes
Red Cabbage Rhubarb
The red pigments in these foods, lycopene and anthocyanin, contribute excellent nutrition as well as beautiful color to the diet. Both are considered phytonutrients. Phyto(plant)nutrients are antioxidants are produced by plants as a defense against environmental damage from pests, toxins and UV (sun) damage. When we eat these foods, our bodies also benefit from the protective effects of their phytonutrients against environmental damages to our cells.
Lycopene is in a class of antioxidants known as carotenoids. Carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients which means the fat in a meal helps their absorption. Research continues on the effects of lycopene on the immune system, cancer (esp. breast and prostate), eye health, neuropathy, heart and bone health, and Alzheimer’s disease. Tomatoes contain a high concentration of lycopene. Cooking tomatoes (such as in tomato sauce) enhances the body’s ability to absorb the phytonutrient. Watermelon, red grapefruit, and red cabbage also contain high concentrations of lycopene.
Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments in plants, collectively known as flavonoids. 500 different anthocyanins were discovered by the year 2000 and more are being isolated every year. The study of anthocyanins and their effects on the human immune systems, cancer, viruses, allergies, diabetes, the cardiovascular system, and eye health are getting a lot of attention in the scientific community in recent years. All the foods listed above in italics contain good amounts of anthocyanins.
Each red fruit and vegetable has its own list of health-promoting phytochemicals along with many vitamins and minerals and plenty of fiber. Several countries around the world feature red foods in their traditions and health practices. In Chinese medicine, red foods are thought to nourish the heart. In Indian Ayurveda, red foods are believed to support the lymphatic flow in the body, especially in the fall and winter. Isn’t it interesting to know modern science is proving why these ancient beliefs are healthy.
Eat RED for the health of it!