Historians tell us that the red, white and blue colors of our nation’s flag had no official meaning when Old Glory became our national symbol of independence in 1777. However, red, white and blue did take on meaning in 1782 when our founding fathers stipulated that the Great Seal of the United States would reflect their beliefs and values. Red, therefore, symbolized hardiness and valor. White represented purity and innocence. And blue signified vigilance, perseverance and justice.
Unfortunately, we don’t necessarily inherit these tendencies when we eat foods that are red, white and blue. We do, however, reap other benefits when we ingest these color pigments that occur naturally in food. (Sorry, red, white and blue M&M’s don’t count.)
Red: Fruits and vegetables such as cherries, strawberries, tomatoes, pomegranate, red peppers and watermelon contain phytonutrients that help guard our cells from damage and may help reduce our risk for several types of cancer, including prostate cancer in men. The best studied of these red pigments are lycopene and ellagic acid. Interestingly, our bodies absorb lycopene better in cooked foods that have a little added fat. Don’t give up raw tomatoes, however. Just remember that lycopene is more available when you cook them up with a little olive oil.
White: Who said white isn’t good for us? Onions, garlic, white beans, cauliflower, pears and turnips contain substances such as quercetin that help maintain strong bones and keep our arteries flexible. Flexible arteries are important to help prevent high blood pressure.
Blue (and purple): Blueberries, purple grapes and red wine, figs, boysenberries and eggplant are colored by resveratrol and anthocyanidins, powerful antioxidants that may help protect our cells from damage. Resveratrol, for example, is being studied for its role in keeping our hearts healthy and brains sharp. Anthocyanidins are compounds that appear to fight off inflammation associated with heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And remember this: Studies show that eating blueberries may help our memory as we age.
The best strategy to get the most benefit from Nature’s plant colors, say nutrition experts, is to eat a variety of colored fruits and vegetables throughout our lives.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.