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You would be well served to put a vivid palette of luscious reds, brilliant greens and deep purples on your plate. "Colorful fruits and vegetables don't just make your meal look more appealing," says Karen Ansel, a registered dietician in Syosset, New York, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "You get a better mix of nutrients by eating produce in a variety of shades." That's thanks to the unique combination of vitamins, antioxidants and natural chemicals behind the bright hues. Research shows these compounds ward off disease, slow the aging process and boost overall health.
Cherries: A small handful (either dried or fresh) eaten one hour before bed can help raise melatonin levels, sending you off to dreamland faster.
Red Bell Peppers: Ring in better vision with this bell-shaped veggie. It's filled with lutein, a com-pound that can reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Tomatoes: Lycopene gives them their scarlet shade and guards against cancer. It's best absorbed when tomatoes are cooked and served with a little fat.
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Corn: Here's a kernel of truth: People who regularly eat corn and other foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin reduce their risk of developing lung cancer by 27%.
Pineapple: One cup of this tropical wonder provides 128% of the recommended daily amount of manganese, an essential nutrient that sweeps cancer-causing free radicals out of cells.
Bananas: An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but potassium-rich bananas stave off cardiovascular disease and regulate blood pressure.
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Carrots: This veggie is one of the best of the bunch when it comes to heart health. Scientists found that people who eat at least one serving a day are 60% less likely to have a heart attack.
Cantaloupe: Give your immune system a boost: One cup of the orange fruit has 113% of the daily value of vitamin C, which fuels infection-attacking white blood cells.
Sweet Potatoes: Here's a veggie to root for. One baked tuber provides 262% of your daily value of vitamin A, which keeps skin looking young by forming new cells.
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Purple and Blue
Purple Cabbage: Wrap your head around this: Purple cabbage has six times the vitamin C and more antioxidants per 100 grams than its green cousin.
Blueberries: The ultimate brain food, these berries defend against dementia and Alzheimer's. People who eat 2 cups a week are also 25% less likely to develop Parkinson's disease.
Beets: Opt for a natural cleanse with a serving of beets. This sweet veggie is colored by betalain, which helps flush toxins from the body.
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Broccoli: Though it can't replace sunscreen, it may speed up sunburn recovery. Compounds in the veggie reduce redness and inflammation from UV rays by 37%.
Spinach: Leafy greens aren't just for sailors. Spinach is packed with vitamin K (1,000% of your daily value in 1 cup), a nutrient that bonds calcium to bones and slows cell breakdown.
Limes: Make this citrus fruit your main squeeze. Its cancer-fighting properties remain in the blood-stream up to 24 hours after consumption (four times longer than similar substances in green tea).
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What About Black and White Fruits and Veggies?
Foods don't have to be rich in color to pack a nutritional punch.
Garlic: This spicy clove's sulfur compounds are converted into a gas that lowers blood pressure. Garlic also reduces the risk of clots by stopping platelets from becoming too sticky.
Cauliflower: With vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acids, a serving of cauliflower on a regular basis defends against chronic inflammation and lowers your risk for cancer and heart disease.
Blackberries: Salicylate, a natural pain reliever, soothes stomach cramps and wards off atherosclerosis.
Raisins: Consuming raisins and other foods loaded with the mineral boron may provide some of the same effects as estrogen therapy to treat menopause.
Originally published in the July 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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