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Rainbow of Food Pigments


Pigments in fruits and vegetables give these foods their vibrant rainbow of colors. Not only do they make the foods interesting to look at, some research shows they also have health benefits.

Remember, foods can be classified into their color groups by the edible part. For example, you eat watermelon flesh, not often the green and white rind, so watermelon is classified as a red food. Alternately, a green apple has edible skin, so that apple would be a green food.

Red

Find several classes of pigments in red-colored foods: carotenoids, anthocyanins, and betalains. These compounds give foods a pink/red/purple hue. You may be more familiar with some of the carotenoids, such as "beta-carotene" or "lycopene."

Some examples of foods in the red group are red apples, red sweet and hot peppers, beets, red cabbage, red potatoes, cherries, red radishes, strawberries, tomatoes, and watermelon. I bet you can think of many more.

Orange & Yellow

Not just limited to red, carotenoid and betalain pigments also appear in orange- and yellow-colored produce. A carotenoid you may have heard of is "lutein." One of the betalain pigments in this class is "betaxanthin."

In the orange and yellow group, find yellow apples, peaches, yellow and orange peppers, cantaloupe, carrots, pineapple, pumpkin, oranges, sweet corn, and tangerines. Here too, I know you can think of many others.

Green

Green-colored fruits and vegetables contain the pigment chlorophyll. This pigment may give foods a blue-green or a yellow-green hue. As well, many green produce also contain carotenoids, but the green chlorophyll masks the red/orange/yellow hues.

Green foods include spinach, kale, collards, green hot and sweet peppers, peas, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, green cabbage, honeydew melon, kiwi, avocado, green beans, Brussels sprouts, green grapes, and more.

Blue & Purple

Blue- and purple-colored foods contain primarily anthocyanin pigments for that deep, dark color. Find blue and purple foods in blueberries, purple grapes, eggplant, figs, plums, blackberries, and others.

White & Tan

Not an absence of pigment, white- and tan-colored fruits and vegetables actually have a pigment of their own: "anthoxanthin." It is in a similar class to anthocyanin pigments.

You may be familiar with white potatoes or cauliflower, but others include bananas, white onions, garlic, turnips, and mushrooms.

Recipe Corner

Rainbow Fruit Salad (serves 12)

Enjoy the colors of this easy fruit salad. For the size of this recipe, take some to a celebration to share. And consider trying other colors of fruits, such as green grapes for kiwi or watermelon for strawberries.

1 lb container strawberries, washed, stemmed, and sliced
2 large oranges, washed, peeled, and diced
Half of 1 fresh pineapple, washed, peeled, and cut into chunks
4 kiwifruit, washed, peeled, and sliced
1 pint blueberries, washed
2 cups red grapes, washed

1. In a large bowl, combine all fruits. Divide into several small containers, cover, and store in refrigerator until ready to eat.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 90 calories, 0g fat, 0mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 1g protein

"Read More" Resources

WEB HIGHLIGHT 1: Read more on food colors from North Dakota State University in the What Color is Your Food? publication.

WEB HIGHLIGHT 2: From Oregon State University, the Linus Pauling Institute shows research in food pigments and other phytochemicals.

Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.



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