The Rainbow of Food: How Phytonutrients Support a Cancer Protective Diet

Phytonutrients: Eat the rainbow

WHAT ARE PHYTONUTRIENTS?

Phytonutrients are compounds produced by plants to help protect them from environmental damage or predators. Some phytonutrients have been found to have cancer-protective properties, and many are anti-inflammatory. We recommend you get phytonutrients by eating whole foods to ensure you get all the phytonutrients, plus the vitamins, minerals, and fiber whole foods also provide to support a well-balanced diet. 

THE RAINBOW

RED 

The phytonutrients that give food their RED color include anthocyanidins, carotenoids, flavones, flavanols, luteolin, lycopene, and quercetin. These compounds vary in abundance between different foods. These phytonutrients help reduce inflammation in our bodies and protect us from free radicals that can damage DNA, increasing a person’s risk of developing chronic disease.

To learn more about RED foods, check out some of our favorites, beets, radishes, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, rhubarb, red onions, red potatoes, apples/applesauce, grapefruit, pomegranate, cranberries, watermelon, strawberries, cherries, plums, raspberries, red grapes, and kidney beans.

We have many recipes that showcase RED colors; here are a few we highlight

ORANGE

The phytonutrients that provide the ORANGE color of foods include beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, and curcuminoids, to name a few. These compounds vary in abundance between different foods. These phytonutrients help reduce inflammation in our bodies and support eye and skin health.

To learn more about ORANGE foods, check out some of our favorites, acorn squash, winter squash, sweet potato, pumpkins, carrots, bell peppers, oranges, persimmons, mango, papaya, apricots, tangerines, dried fruit, nectarine, cantaloupe. Don’t forget that our spices like turmeric, curry powder, and cayenne also provide phytonutrients.

We have many recipes that showcase ORANGE colors; here are a few we highlight

YELLOW

The phytonutrients that give food their YELLOW color are carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, to name a few. These compounds vary in abundance between different foods. These phytonutrients help reduce inflammation in our bodies and support eye and skin health.

What comes to mind when you think of yellow foods? Our favorite yellow foods are kale, collard greens, corn/corn-on-the-cob/popcorn, hominy/succotash, summer squash, spaghetti squash, Yukon gold potatoes, bell peppers, pineapple, bananas, peaches, lemons, and curry powder.

We have many recipes that showcase YELLOW colors; here are a few we highlight

GREEN

There are so many reasons to celebrate GREEN today and every day. One well-studied phytonutrient that comes from the cruciferous vegetable family is indole-3 carbinol. Animal and cell studies have found indole-3 carbinol to inhibit cancer progression in several cancers by protecting our healthy cells from DNA damage, antiviral and antibacterial effects, and anti-inflammatory effects.

GREEN plants have other colors mixed in with them, providing even more phytonutrients! Cruciferous vegetables include arugula, Bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and Swiss chard. On our link in our bio to learn more about cruciferous vegetables and ways to prepare them. 

To learn more about GREEN foods, check out some of our favorites brassicas (i.e., parsnips, celery root, rutabagas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kohlrabi, arugula, chard), spinach, watercress, celery, soy/tofu, miso, peas, cucumbers, artichokes, green peas/snow peas, lettuce, asparagus, okra, olives/olive oil, lime, rosemary, basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme, green tea, and Matcha.

We have many recipes that showcase GREEN colors; here are a few we highlight

BLUE/PURPLE

The phytonutrients that provide the BLUE/PURPLE color of foods include anthocyanidins, procyanidins, and resveratrol, to name a few. These compounds are anti-inflammatory, promote heart health, and promote heart health.

To learn more about BLUE/PURPLE foods, check out some of our favorites brassicas, cauliflower (purple), kale (purple), eggplant, purple potatoes, prunes, grapes/raisins, berries, and figs.

We have many recipes that showcase BLUE/PURPLE colors; here are a few we highlight

WHITE/TAN/BROWN

Many of us think we need less of these colors on our plates, but WHITE/TAN/BROWN foods are high in fiber, full of essential vitamins and minerals, and have a place on our plates. The phytonutrients that give food their WHITE/TAN/BROWN color include allicin, cellulose (fiber), lignans, sesamol, tannins, and terpenoids, to name a few. These compounds vary in abundance between different foods.

Here are a few of our favorite WHITE/TAN/BROWN foods to help inspire you to add them to your plate more often: cauliflower, russet/Idaho/fingerling potatoes, mushrooms, onions/shallots, leeks, garlic, ginger, coconut, chickpeas, lentils, beans (black beans, cannellini), black-eyed, whole wheat, oats, farro, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, chestnuts, pecans, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, cashews, sesame, tahini, chia seeds, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee, and dark chocolate.

We have many recipes that showcase WHITE/TAN/BROWN colors; here are a few we highlight

RECIPES THAT INCLUDE THE ENTIRE RAINBOW

  • Kale Fennel Salad To ensure you get the entire rainbow, get a blend of purple and green kale – this will provide green, yellow, and purple phytonutrients.
  • Quinoa Bowl Add 2 Tbsp dried cranberries and 1 cup of thinly sliced orange bell pepper to complete the rainbow!
  • Black-Eyed Pea Chard & Farro soup Use lemon juice instead of pomegranate molasses to get in some yellow. Also, sauté 2-3 thinly sliced purple carrots with chard and onions for some purple phytonutrients.

Check out our Anti-Inflammatory Blog for tips and tricks on including the rainbow of color on your plate.

Registered Dietitian Approved

Our recipes, articles, and videos are reviewed by our oncology-trained dietitians to ensure that each is backed with scientific evidence and follows the guidelines set by the Oncology Nutrition for Clinical Practice, 2nd Ed., published by the Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, a professional interest group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society

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