The Nutritional Content of the Colour Red

The Nutritional Content of the Colour Red

You’ve probably heard how important it is to eat fruits and veggies of different colours, as if you were eating the rainbow. What you probably didn’t know was that there is a reason behind adding each individual colour to your plate — and today we’ll take a closer look at the colour red.

What Stands Out About Red Foods?

Image Credit: Jen Collins on Flickr.
Image Credit: Jen Collins on Flickr.

Many foods are coloured red — but we’re looking specifically at the reds found in plants and their fruit. Fruits and veggies contain a world of wonderful chemicals that are very important for the health of our body. Foods appear to be a certain colour because they contain chemicals affecting pigmentation, and two in particular are responsible for the colour red: anthocyanins and lycopene.

Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid, or a group of molecules that can dissolve in water, whereas lycopene is a type of carotenoid — the most famous carotenoid being carotene which colours carrots. Both of these pigments contain antioxidants and produce colours ranging from bright red-orange to blue-violet.

The broad benefits of anthocyanins and lycopene have been well accepted in folk medicine in many parts of the world. For example, anthocyanins extracted from the hibiscus have been used in remedies for liver dysfunction and hypertension. Anthocyanins from bilberry have been of use for vision disorders, microbial infections, diarrhoea, and many other health disorders.

The Benefits of Turning to Red

1. Red protects you from oxidation

Anthocyanins can protect your DNA from damage by radiation or other harms, both independently and with other chemicals in the body. Lycopene can also support the immune system by helping in the fight against free radicals which may cause oxidation in the body.

2. Red helps you to see better

Research indicates that anthocyanins and carotenoids may have an impact in the improvement of night and overall vision. One study examined the oral intake of anthocyanins from blackcurrants, while another researched the effect of bilberries. Both studies found significantly improved night vision in humans. Part of what these studies found was that the anthocyanins found in blackcurrants and bilberries stimulated the regeneration of rhodopsin, which is a protein receptor found in the retina of the eye.

3. Red works in the prevention of cancer

Research trials in humans have tested anthocyanins and lycopene and their effect on cancer. They found that these pigments can reduce cancer cell proliferation and inhibit tumour formation. This is because of the pigment’s antioxidant potential as well as their ability to inhibit enzymes that participate in the formation of tumours. One study in particular, which tested fruit extracts, found that the anthocyanins were effective against various stages of carcinogenesis, when the cancer cells are beginning to form.

4. Red keeps your heart healthy

One of the initial problems in vascular diseases is the affectation of the interior wall of the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. Investigation has revealed that anthocyanins can be incorporated in the cells that form this interior wall. To study this, four different types of anthocyanins were isolated from elderberries and their effects on the body were monitored, resulting in significant oxidative stress protection.

Others studies have also highlighted the protection effect from grape juice or wine against heart attacks due to their high anthocyanin content which among other benefits:

  • Help reduce inflammation
  • Enhance capillary strength and permeability
  • Inhibit platelet formation and
  • Enhance nitric oxide (NO) release (a chemical that dilates blood vessels, promoting circulation)

See Also: Here’s Why Doctors Recommend Yoga For A Healthy Heart

5. Red can help you in the prevention of obesity and diabetes

Image Credit: darwin Bell on Flickr.
Image Credit: darwin Bell on Flickr.

A study used anthocyanins which were extracted from purple corn and were given along a very high fat diet to mice. The conclusions of the study signal that the anthocyanins inhibited the increase of certain tissues that contribute to body weight.

Diabetic and pre-diabetic symptoms are also common consequences of a high-fat diet, however these were not present when mice also ingested isolated anthocyanins. Another study observed a decrease in blood sugar concentrations in urine and blood serum after the ingestion of anthocyanins. The experiments suggest that anthocyanins, as a functional food component, can aid in the prevention of obesity and diabetes.

6. Red can help in cognitive and motor function

A study researched the effect of anthocyanins that came from purple sweet potatoes while another focused on blueberry extracts. Results showed that anthocyanins had a reversal of age-related deficits in memory and motor functions.

7. Red has anti-inflammatory properties

Anthocyanins have also been observed to have antimicrobial properties and may help reduce inflammation. They have also been detected to inhibit the biosynthesis of aflatoxins which are common toxins found in a wide range of food commodities, particularly cereals, oilseeds, spices and nuts.

Great Red Foods to Add to Your Plate

Foods And Their Anthocyanin Content

FoodstuffAnthocyanin (mg/100g)
Aubergine (egg plant)750
Black currant130-400
Blackberry83-326
Blueberry25-497
Cherry350-400
Chokeberry200-1000
Cranberry60-200
Elderberry450
Orange~200
Radish11-60
Raspberry10-60
Red currant80-420
Red grape30-750
Red onions7-21
Red wine24-35
Strawberry15-35

Foods And Their Lycopene Content

FoodstuffServing SizeLycopene
(mg/serving)
Tomato juice250 mL (1 cup)25.0
Tomato ketchup15 mL (1 tbsp)2.7
Spaghetti sauce125 mL (1/2 cup)28.1
Tomato paste30 mL (2 tbsp)13.8
Tomato soup (condensed)250 mL prepared9.7
Tomato sauce60 mL (1/4 cup)8.9
Chili sauce30 mL (2 tbsp)6.7
Cocktail sauce30 mL (2 tbsp)5.9
Watermelon368 g
(1 slice: 25 x 2 cm)
14.7
Pink grapefruit123 g (1/2)4.9
Raw tomato123 g (1 medium)3.7

Practical Ways to Eat More Red

  • Image Credit: Alpha on Flickr.
    Image Credit: Alpha on Flickr.

    Instead of white, bland potatoes change to colour! Choose the red, purple varieties or  sweet potatoes and get more nutritional value in exchange. Did you know that they are excluded by supermarkets because they are rejected by consumers just because of their colourful nature?

  • Instead of white rice choose the black/purple variety. Their colour is a signal of their nutrient richness.
  • Instead of orange juice swap for tomato juice.
  • Try a hibiscus drink which also has diuretic properties.
  • Spice up your meal with some chilli which is also rich in vitamin C.
  • When was the last time you cooked some eggplant? Make an eggplant lasagne!
  • Make your next drink rich in anthocyanins and lycopene by adding beetroot and carrots.
  • Sometimes these pigments are hidden and will develop along with the maturity of the fruit — that’s why produce changes colour as it grows, ripens and decays. The ripest, brightest fruit contains the most nutritional value.

How you eat has an impact on how you feel and your overall wellness. To boost your health don’t forget about adding a touch of red to your meals; you’ll be gaining more nutrition, flavour and a livelier dish to savour.

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