Why Plant Colors Are Vital For Your Health
This article was written by Colin Rose, a Senior Associate Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, who has been writing on health science for over 30 years.
The pigments that create the colors found in fruits and vegetables contain some of the most bio-active and important nutrients for your health.
That’s why we are advised to eat a rainbow. Because, while each color has its own health benefits, the biggest benefits come from the synergistic effect of combining the colors.
It is also why we are advised – wherever possible – to eat the skins of fruits and vegetables. Because they contain the highest concentration of color micro-nutrients.
Eating fruits and vegetables rich in colors can reduce the risk of many different diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and is central to slowing the ageing process.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables is one of the main controllable factors that increase the risk of cancer.
In fact, every health organization in the world encourages us to eat more fruits and veggies – at least 5 a day. But it should be more – the two most extensive studies – (from Imperial College London and the American Cancer Society) – put the level of fruits and vegetables that you need to gain measurable health protection at 9 -10 portions a day.
Yet less than 2 in 10 of us consume even 5 portions a day.
Which is why so many people take a vitamin and mineral supplement.
But fruits and vegetables – and herbs – contain many more health protective compounds than just vitamins. Vitamins are only part of the story.
So what realistically can we do?
Although we should absolutely strive for at least that 5 portions of fruits and veg, there is a an innovative new supplement that can help.
It’s called DailyColors and It combines no less than 16 plant color micro-nutrients. Each one is supported by studies, but it is the synergistic effect of the overall combination that’s so exciting.
The Four Plant Color Groups
Health researchers classify fruits, vegetables and herbs into four groups.
The Blues and Purples – represented by plant food like blueberries, grapes, elderberries, currants, aubergine (egg plant), beetroot, figs, red cabbage
The Reds – represented by red apples, pomegranate, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, red beet, cranberries and tomatoes
The Greens – represented by kale, cabbage, spinach, olives, avocados, green coffee beans, limes, asparagus, broccoli, sprouts and herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano.
The Orange and Yellow – represented by carrots, onions, grapefruit, ginger, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, oranges, lemons, garlic, squashes, mangoes, yellow peppers, pumpkin and corn.
Each color group has a family of compounds within them – micro-nutrients, each with a scientific name, specific chemical structure and health properties.
By incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables from each group into your food plan you boost your micro-nutrient intake and support your own and your family’s health.
Four Micro-Nutrient Color Groups
Health Researchers Also Categorize The Micro-Nutrients In Plant Color By Their Scientific Names:
Anthocyanidins – dark blue, purple, and red pigments
Carotenoids – yellow and orange pigments
Betalains – darker red and yellow-orange pigments.
Chlorophylls – green pigments
Let’s look at how they each support your health – and especially when combined.
The Health Benefits Of Anthocyanin Rich (Blue And Purple) Plants.
Anthocyanins are compounds that give blueberries, blackberries, blackberries, raspberries, plums, grapes, pomegranates, aubergine (eggplant) their blue and purple color.
Generally the darker the color the more anthocyanins there are in the food.
Anthocyanins belong to a family of plant compounds called flavonoids and have a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. This helps protects the body and brain from both free radical damage – oxidative stress – and inflammation, which we know leads to most chronic diseases.
Researchers have also noted that anthocyanins have anti-diabetic and anti-microbial properties. There is even some evidence from animal studies that they are able to reduce the amyloid plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Mediterranean diet is strongly linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease – and a reason is that it is particularly rich in anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins And Heart Health
Anthocyanins are beneficial for heart health. We know that hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) leads to heart disease – and inflammation is widely confirmed to be one of the root causes of atherosclerosis. By helping reduce inflammation and increase blood flow within arteries, anthocyanins help prevent atherosclerosis. Additionally, improved blood flow lowers blood pressure – further reducing the risk of heart disease.
Anthocyanins and Gut Health
Anthocyanins have other ways to improve your health. They can boost the level of good bacteria (probiotics) in your gut, which helps overcome and crowd-out the bad ones (pathogens).
That’s important because improved gut health directly affects your immune system. It can also improve your mood, as the gut and brain are directly connected via the gut/brain axis.
However, that’s not the only way that anthocyanins can improve your microbiome. Friendly bacteria – probiotics – use anthocyanins to ferment the fibre in your diet to make what are called short-chain fatty acids (SFCAs). One especially important SFCA is butyrate which is important to maintain the integrity of gut cell walls.
If the gut wall lacks integrity, the result can be ‘leaky gut’. This is a condition where microscopic holes in the gut wall allow toxins and semi-digested food particles to enter the blood stream – triggering inflammation.
SFCAs also lower the pH in the gut – (making in more acid) – which makes it harder for unhealthy microbes to grow.
Anthocyanins And Brain Health
A general rule in health is that what is good for the heart is good for the brain.
Very few compounds can get past the blood-brain barrier, but anthocyanins can. Eating anthocyanin-rich blueberries has been shown in studies to help improve cognitive function.
That’s because there is a lot of fat in the brain – and fats are especially vulnerable to oxidative stress (free radical damage) and inflammation. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of anthocyanins are therefore neuro-protective, as well as heart protective.
The Health Benefits Of Carotenoid Rich (Red And Yellow) Plants
Carotenoids are the red, yellow, orange, and pink colour molecules that give tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, red peppers, pumpkins, turmeric, ginger, red herbs like cinnamon (and salmon) their characteristic colour.
The best-known carotenoid is beta-carotene, but others include lutein, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin and astaxanthin.
Beta-carotene is also found in some green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, although it’s hidden by the green chlorophyl pigments also found in these plants. (The flaming oranges and reds of trees and shrubs in autumn are also carotenoids, which were similarly hidden when the trees and shrubs were in full summer leaf. But are only revealed as leaves die and chlorophyl begins to diminish).
Beta Carotene: Beta-carotene is found in carrots (where the name comes from), in mangoes, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.
Carotenoids – like anthocyanins – can neutralize free radical damage and therefore protect you against oxidative stress – which can damage your mitochondria, cells and tissues. Carotenoids can also act to reduce internal inflammation – a key driver of almost all age-related disease.
The body can use beta-carotene as a precursor to make vitamin A – which is essential for healthy growth and development, and for defence against sun damage. Vitamin A supports a strong immune function, skin health, and vision.
Lutein For Women’s Health
Beta-carotene – along with another carotenoid called lutein – is an important color nutrient for women. That’s because beta-carotene and lutein are found in significant concentrations in the corpus luteum of the ovary.
The corpus luteum secretes hormones and its function is to switch production of oestrogen during the first half of the menstrual cycle to progesterone and oestrogen in the second half. Which is a natural, healthy cycle.
Beta-carotene and lutein help ensure proper function of the corpus luteum. Low beta-carotene and lutein is linked to delayed ovulation and therefore decreased progesterone levels. Researchers have therefore suggested that beta-carotene may help lower the risk of ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, heavy menstrual bleeding and breast cysts.
Lycopene: Another carotenoid called lycopene is found in high levels in tomatoes, and in lesser amounts in watermelons, apricots and pink grapefruits. Lycopene creates the bright red colors of these fruits.
Lycopene is an antioxidant and supports the health of prostate and breast tissue. Higher levels of lycopene are linked to a decreased risk of prostate and breast cancer. Its antioxidant properties suggest it plays a part in heart health and anti-ageing too.
Lutein and zeaxanthin – are a powerful pair of related carotenoids that are found in spinach, lettuce, pistachios, sweet corn and eggs. They give these foods their yellow color.
Lutein and zeaxanthin play a key role in eye health. They are vital nutrients for the light-sensitive tissue of the eyes called the retina. They help protect the retina from damage due to free radical damage (oxidative stress), light damage and inflammation.
There is persuasive evidence that lutein and zeaxanthin may help prevent and slow down the progression of AMD – Age-related Macular Degeneration, the leading cause of poor vision and blindness in people over 50. Many opticians recommend these micro-nutrients.
Astaxanthin is another carotenoid and a powerful antioxidant. Astaxanthin is found in certain yeasts and marine algae, and in animals that eat these algae, such as salmon, shrimp, and lobster.
It is astaxanthin that gives animals – like flamingos – their pink colour. Some researchers believe that it’s astaxanthin that helps give salmon their prodigious energy to swim upstream for days to spawn.
Marine algae make astaxanthin to protect themselves from powerful sunlight when sea water dries up at low tide and exposes them to dangerous UV radiation. Therefore, as an antioxidant, astaxanthin – like beta carotene – acts as an internal sunscreen to protect our skin from UV damage.
All the carotenoids play an important part in supporting healthy immune function.
The Health Benefits Of Betalain Rich (Red And Dark Yellow) Plants
Betalains are a group of dark red and dark yellow-orange pigments found mainly in beetroot (beets in America). Hence their name. Lesser amounts are found in the red stems of chard and in rhubarb.
Betalains are the colorful reason that your pee may turn red after eating beetroot, as your body doesn’t completely absorb and metabolise the compounds.
Unlike anthocyanins, which have similar health properties, betalains are not found in a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. This is because they actually replace anthocyanins as the main red pigment in a plant and the two are never found together in the same food. So combining the two is an important health strategy.
Betalains have a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory effect – and therefore are part of your armoury to defend against heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.
Betalains And Heart And Brain Health
Betaine – a main nutrient in betalains – can, in concert with folic acid and other B vitamins, lower homocysteine levels in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid and high homocysteine is a serious warning marker for heart disease, as it is linked to oxidized cholesterol.
Betalains are able to bind to cholesterol, helping protect it from free radicals and thus preventing it from being oxidized. That’s important because it is oxidised cholesterol – (not just cholesterol) – that is a main contributor to the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Research shows betalains can also help lower high blood sugar levels that can damage blood vessels and which is a driver of ageing.
Since betalain contains nitrogen it can help increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, making it a further way to improve cardiovascular health. That’s because higher levels of nitric oxide improve ‘endothelial function’ – endothelial cells are the cells which line the inside of blood vessels.
By improving the suppleness of blood vessels (endothelial function), you help reduce hyper-tension and improve blood flow to both the heart and the brain – making betalain (betaine) helpful for cognitive function.
Betalains Help Protect Against DNA Damage
Betalains have also been shown to also help protect DNA from damage, which is probably why some cell studies show that betalains can slow the growth of colon and liver cancers.
Betalains additionally can protect the liver and kidneys from toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides.
The Health Benefits Of Chlorophyll Rich (Green) Plants
Chlorophyll helps plants absorb energy from the sun and convert it into sugars. Chlorophyll comes from the Greek meaning ‘green leaf’ – and is the main pigment in plants that gives them their green colors.
Foods rich in chlorophyll include leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chard, green peppers, spirulina, olive leaves and many herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint and sage.
Chlorophyll is yet another important antioxidant. It also acts as a detoxifier as it can bind to toxins rendering them inactive and able to be eliminated from the body. This is especially important for heavy metals like mercury – a neurotoxin which can become concentrated in predator fish like tuna and negatively affect brain.
Chlorophyll supports the process by which bone marrow makes red blood cells. An increase in red blood cells means more oxygen moves around your body, and so is linked to improved energy.
Chlorophyll also supports the immune system as it is an anti-microbial and has been noted as particularly effective against yeast infections.
Chlorophyll rich leafy green vegetables are high in several vital nutrients including:
- Potassium which is important for healthy blood pressure, regular heart rhythm, and nerve communication.
- Magnesium which is involved in over 300 ‘enzymatic reactions’ and is needed for DNA repair, for healthy neuron communication, and energy production. Magnesium deficiency is common and is linked to poor sleep and tiredness.
- The B vitamin folate, which helps produce healthy red blood cells. Folate – called folic acid in its supplement form – helps prevent changes to DNA that could lead to cancer.
- Sulforaphane – which boosts the production of the body’s own natural antioxidants like glutathione. It helps improve the liver’s ability to rid the body of toxins – and several well conducted animal studies show that sulforaphane appears to have an anti-cancer effect.
Levels of sulforaphane are several times higher in raw as opposed to cooked vegetables and in those cooked below 140C – ideally lightly steamed.
An innovative study published in the US Library of Medicine showed that if you add powdered mustard seed to broccoli as you cook it, the formation of sulforaphane increases fourfold.
The Synergistic Effect Of Combining Plant Colors
We’ve seen the evidence that each individual micro-nutrient that creates a plant colour can help reduce your risk of illness and support your health. But the power of nature is normally in combinations – where 2+2 = 5 or often even 7.
That’s the thinking behind the new category of health supplement called DailyColors. DailyColors has taken 16 bio-active colour micro-nutrients from fruits, vegetables and herbs and blended them into a one-a-day supplement.
It is a natural supplement that can be taken by children as young as 10 to people looking for ways to achieve healthy ageing.
The inspiration was the Mediterranean Diet – which is the most researched diet ever – and which is confirmed as helping lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
The color micro-nutrients in DailyColors are:
Although DailyColors is an innovative, valuable new supplement, it does not – as we have already said – replace the need for a sensible diet. You still need daily portions fruits and vegetables – because they contain macro-nutrients like fibre, carbohydrates and protein as well as vitamins and minerals.
But DailyColors will impressively boost the range and level of ‘rainbow’ micro-nutrients. Therefore, it is the ‘missing’ partner to any vitamin and mineral supplement.
The Science Behind DailyColors
DailyColors has been subjected to significant research. It certainly acts as an antioxidant as well as an anti-inflammatory. But it also does something very new and important.
Without getting too technical, it has been shown to inhibit enzymes that lead to illness in later life.
Here is how it works.
Enzymes are essential proteins that speed up thousands of bodily processes. That’s good when the processes are vital for healthy function – like digestion and building healthy tissue and muscle.
But it’s bad when enzymes speed up negative processes – like ageing, weakening of the immune system, or when elevated levels of certain enzymes indicate heart disease, Alzheimer’s or even cancer.
So, one of the areas now most exciting health researchers is ‘enzyme inhibition’. Reducing the level of enzymes that lead to bad outcomes – to disease.
An ‘enzyme inhibitor’ is a compound that binds to a potentially harmful enzyme and reduces its activity.
Enzyme inhibitors are already used in drugs to reduce blood pressure, to treat or inhibit cancer, to slow Alzheimer’s, and they are in anti-depressants and even in antibiotics. So the science is well established.
What is new is that we now know that certain natural compounds – especially the biologically active micro-nutrients in plant colors – can also act as ‘enzyme inhibitors. Not only may they act as powerfully as some drugs – many anti-cancer drugs are originally derived from them.
But unlike drugs that can have toxic side effects, using natural plant color micro-nutients in a supplement is not only safe, but has additional health benefits.
Plant pigments are classified as phyto-nutrients (phyto meaning plant). A 2020 article in The American Society of Nutrition entitled ‘Plant Pigment Power of Phytonutrients and vascular Health’ confirms:
“Phytonutrients stimulate enzymes that assist in toxin removal, enhance immunity, contribute to cardiovascular/brain health, promote healthy estrogen metabolism, and stimulate the death of cancer cells”
You can see full details of DailyColors and the science behind it here at www.dailycolors.com.
It’s very possible that counting colors in your diet will do more for your health than counting calories!
So – have you had your daily colors today?