Rich-colored foods fill phytonutrient gap

Feb 9, 2010 at 11:04 a.m. ET

Your mom told you to eat your fruits and vegetables and today's experts recommend getting five to 10 servings of the good for you produce. Put another way, your health depends on these bright-hued foods because they are high in essential nutrients and phytonutrients. Unfortunately, the average American doesn't even near the bottom range of recommended fruit and veggie servings. This means you are missing out on the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients this food group provides. If -œeating your fruits and vegetables- doesn't intrigue you, change your dietary view - and eat your colors. Here's how.

Colorful mix of vegetables

What are phytonutrients?

Phytonutrients, also called phytochemicals, are specific organic compounds in plants that are believed to have a range of health benefits. Phytochemicals are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and even tea. Though they are not vital for life, per se, like carbohydrates, protein, and fat, they can protect you from chronic illnesses and improve your general health.

Phytonutrient gap

The America's Phytonutrient Report, issued in October 2009 and revised in February 2010, indicates that eight out of 10 Americans are falling short on their phytonutrient intake. Essentially, this means about 80 percent of Americans are not consuming enough fruits, vegetables or other phytonutrient-rich foods, and essentially neglecting their health.

The report, which was sponsored by the supplement company Nutrilite, was developed from an analysis of data taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) that capture what Americans eat daily, and supplemental nutrient concentration data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the published literature. Since phytonutrients are also related to the compounds that give plants their color, the report divided phytonutrient consumption into five categories of colors: green, red, white, purple/blue, and yellow/orange.


The Phytonutrient Report indicates that 69 percent of Americans aren't consuming enough green foods. Green-hued foods -- tea, honeydew, kiwi, limes, kale, collards and spinach to name a few – contain EGCG, isiothiocyanate, lutein/zeaxanthin, and isoflavones. These phytonutrients are beneficial for eye health, cancer prevention, wound healing and gum health.

Recipes and benefits of eating green fruits and veggies


According to the report, 74 percent of Americans fall short on red foods, including red peppers, tomatoes, pomegranates, watermelon and cherries. These fruits and vegetables are good sources of lycopene and ellagic acid. Naturally red foods may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Learn more about lycopene and red-hued foods


Not all white foods are refined and "bad for you". White foods, which contain the phytonutrients allicin and quercetin, include garlic, onions, and cauliflower, may reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. Eighty-three percent of Americans aren't getting enough.

Heart healing benefits of garlic


The Phytonutrient Report indicates that 76 percent of Americans are skipping purple and blue foods, and missing out on the health benefits of anthocyanidins and resveratrol, associated with heart health and a reduced risk of cancer. Purple and blue foods include berries, grapes and eggplant.

More on the nutritional power of purple foods


Eighty percent of Americans aren't getting enough yellow and orange foods, such as yellow or orange peppers, carrots, squash, lemons, oranges, cantaloupe and mango. These foods contain the phytonutrients alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, hesperitin, and beta-cryptoxanthin, and are associated with eye, skin and cardiovascular health.

More health benefits of orange-hued foods

You don't need to think in terms of scientifically-named nutrients to reap the most health rewards from your fruit and vegetable consumption, simply think in terms of naturally bright-hued foods and eat your colors.

To learn more about the importance of phytonutrients and to read the entire report, visit