Despite the current green juice craze and kale being infused into almost everything, green foods aren’t the only foods that are loaded with vitamins, minerals, nutrients and disease-fighting compounds.
Red fruits and vegetables get their color from an antioxidant compound found in plants called lycopene. Lycopene has been subject to a great deal of recent research due to its potent anti-cancer properties. The red hue also comes from polyphenol nutrients from plants called anthocyanins. Among the 635+ anthocyanins which are mostly responsible for adding color to almost all fruits and vegetables, most have been shown to help fight oxidative stress, balance our intestinal microflora, prevent chronic disease, and promote hormonal balance (11).
With all of these known benefits of eating a diet rich in colorful foods, you might be surprised to know that many Americans lack nutrient diversity in their diets. In other words, many people aren’t regularly consuming an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables. This lack of nutrient diversity provides a rational explanation for the rise of chronic disease in the United States.
We’ve rounded up the most important details on three of the most commonly consumed (and some of the most nutritious) red fruits and vegetables which are becoming popular components of recipes and are abundantly available at almost every supermarket.
As one of the most important sources of vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, vitamin A, and potassium, it’s no wonder that tomatoes are the second most consumed vegetable in the entire United States (1). Although tomatoes are considered fruits botanically, most nutritionists consider them vegetables.
Tomatoes are an abundant source of lycopene, a powerful phytonutrient and antioxidant that has proven anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects (2). Tomatoes also contain a nutrient called lutein, which, when consumed on a regular basis, can promote cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure, and lower cholesterol (3). The vitamin C content of tomatoes also play an important function in maintaining skin elasticity and appearance (4).
When buying tomatoes, look for ones which are vine-ripened. Tomatoes grown by other means, such as in a hothouse or greenhouse, may contain nearly 50% less vitamin C content. When possible, you should always look for organic tomatoes as they are included on the Enviromental Working Group’s 2019 Dirty Dozen List. Check for soft feeling skin on the outside and give them a gentle squeeze to ensure they’re slightly firm. As the tomato gets softer, they become more ripe and taste sweeter.
Since the vitamin A and other carotenoids in tomatoes are fat-soluble nutrients, you might consider pairing them with a food that is rich in fat such as seeds or salmon, or cooking them with avocado, olive, or coconut oil to ensure maximum absorption.
It’s important to consider that some people have a sensitivity to the nightshade family of vegetables to which the tomato belongs. Those with arthritis and autoimmune conditions may find that their symptoms flare when consuming tomatoes. Due to their acid content, tomatoes may also aggravate symptoms of GERD and related disorders.
Red Bell Peppers
Alongside the tomato, the red bell pepper is also a member of the nightshade family of vegetables. Unlike spicy variations, such as cayenne peppers, bell peppers lack the compound capsaicin, which is responsible for their mouth burning spice.
When compared to other varieties of bell peppers, the red bell pepper contains nearly 800% more vitamin A. In fact, a single medium size red bell pepper contains nearly 75% of your daily vitamin A requirements. Even more astounding is the fact that a serving of red bell pepper also contains 253% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C. These two vitamins combined with the pepper’s vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, thiamine, and fiber leave no room for wonder why red bell peppers have been shown to have numerous health benefits.
Lutein, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and zeaxanthin in red bell peppers have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease — especially when steamed (5). Zeaxanthin in particular has been associated with supporting eye health, improving immune function, and promoting collagen production. The B6 content of red bell peppers has also demonstrated powerful effects on neurotransmitter activity which may help improve mood, energy levels, and concentration, in addition to preventing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s (6, 7, 8).
Keep in mind that red bell peppers are also included on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen List, so try to buy organic when possible. In fact, a study published in 2012 discovered that organic bell peppers contain a substantially greater amount of vitamin C, beta-carotene, carotenoids, and other powerful phytonutrients when compared to conventionally farmed bell peppers (9). Look for peppers that are vibrant and have an even distribution of color across the skin and are firm in texture and appearance.
As with tomatoes, some people with certain autoimmune conditions may experience symptoms when they consume nightshade vegetables. Some people also have an allergy or intolerance to bell peppers, so make sure it’s an appropriate selection before recommending or consuming red bell peppers (10).
If adding an extra punch of powerful disease-preventing and longevity promoting vitamins, minerals, and compounds is important to you, then you may want to consider eating more pomegranates. In fact, pomegranate juice from pomegranate seeds may have up to 300% more antioxidants when compared to green tea (13).
The health benefits from pomegranate juice and its peel are attributed to its rich composition of polyphenols, specifically tannins and flavonoids in addition to their anthocyanins. This blend of nutrients is directly responsible for pomegranate’s high antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory effects. These effects have been shown to decrease a specific inflammatory immune chemical called tumor necrosis factor alpha, or TNF-alpha. TNF-alpha is frequently elevated in those who have a variety of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, making pomegranates a great addition to the diet of those who may benefit from warding off inflammation and regulating the immune system.
The metabolites of pomegranates have been shown to produce beneficial effects in those with certain cancers (specifically prostate, breast, lung, skin, and colon cancers) due to its ability to positively modulate, or change, the immune system’s response to inflammation and proteins that cause cellular death. The punicic acid content in pomegranates has been shown to reduce vascular inflammation which may produce positive effects in those with cardiovascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and high cholesterol. Pomegranates have also been shown to reduce pain in those with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and inhibit the growth of certain bacteria such as MRSA (14).
As if you don’t already have enough reasons to consume more pomegranates, pomegranate extract has also been shown to increase blood flow, delay the onset of fatigue, and improve exercise performance in men and women (14).
Pomegranates are usually available as a whole pomegranate, juice, or seeds. The seeds may be eaten whole, used to make pomegranate oil or can be used to make pomegranate juice. It’s important to note that, like most other fruit juices from stores, pomegranate juices may not be juice and may have artificial flavors, dyes, preservatives, and sweeteners added. For that reason, we recommend preparing your own pomegranate juice or eating the seeds when they’re in season between September and January.
Be mindful that pomegranates can have very potent effects on the cardiovascular system by causing a decrease in blood pressure. Additionally, pomegranates can interact with certain common blood pressure medications. If you have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular issues, be sure to check with a physician before consuming them.