Spend even a few minutes scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, and you’ll discover food memes making all sorts of health claims. One common meme includes pictures of fruits and veggies and says that specific fruit and vegetable colors have extra nutritional benefits. The problem with these memes is that their messages often conflict so it’s hard to know what’s true.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Caroline Passerrello, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says the color of food definitely plays an important role in the nutritional makeup of our diets. However, there’s more to protecting our bodies against illness than simply eating one color of food. And that’s where memes often only tell you half of the story.
“Anybody can make a meme and make it say anything they want it to say,” Passerrello says. “The fact is that different colors do indicate potential health benefits. But we enter vague territory when it comes to how much of these nutrients we actually consume after the various cooking methods.”
Passerrello says the key to good health is to eat foods representing a rainbow of colors. For instance, while red fruits and vegetables are known to be a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant, solely adding red foods to a less than desirable overall diet and lifestyle will not effectively prevent heart disease.
“Nothing works on its own. Eating a combination of foods will effectively provide the nutrients you need (to prevent disease),” she says.
Some foods are more rich in nutrients than others. For example, orange and yellow foods contain beta-carotene, however a sweet potato contains more of the nutrient than a peach.
In order to reap the benefits that each food color presents, one must eat a well-balanced diet, combined with regular exercise says nutrition expert Toby Amidor, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.
“When you eat different colored foods in your diet, like red tomatoes, green peppers, and purple cabbage, it means that you are getting a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (natural plant chemicals that fight disease),” Amidor says.
“Each color represents a different nutrient profile, so the more colors you eat, the greater the opportunity you are taking in the nutrients you need to keep your body properly nourished.”