Colorful Chemical Compounds

Did you know that the natural colors of our foods play a vital role in our health?

Disclaimer: It is important to note that supplements are NOT a part of this blog’s discussion or recommendations, you will only find information pertaining to whole foods in their natural state, no pills or supplements. Thank you.


In their natural state, plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains, offer a fabulous array of colors.  The colors, scent, fiber, and flavor of the foods represent many of the plants secret weapons. These weapons are known as bioactive compounds, and they protect the plants from viruses, bacteria, fungi, and predators.

The term bioactive compound includes phytonutrient, antioxidant, phytochemical, and a myriad of other names. What’s cool about bioactive compounds found in plant foods is that, once consumed, the human body can also use the compounds for many positive health benefits.

This is why we often see and hear that consumption of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals are a valuable tool for staying healthy, slowing the aging process, lowering the risk of diseases, such as cancer, and lowering the risk of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease.

Spoiler Alert! This blog requires that we start out with some important definitions to help us understand how the color of our foods work and how, a ½ cup serving of black plums, can provide your body with more than 4,783 antioxidants that can help your body in a variety of ways.  

Please review the nine vocabulary slides below:

Evidence of the Benefits

It’s amazing to learn that studies all over the world have confirmed, and continue to confirm, that the bioactive compounds found in many foods/spices can provide the human body with the following benefits:

  • Work as strong antioxidants by protecting against oxidative damage
  • Inhibit and slow cancer cell growth
  • Improve and maintain immunity by fighting viruses
  • Prevent and lessen inflammation
  • Increase detoxifying enzymes within the body
  • Inhibit and block tumor growth
  • Limit production of cancer-related hormones
  • Protect cells from damage that cause them to mutate into cancer cells
  • Protect the body against many forms of cancer
  • Lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes

Palette of Power

Food for thought: It’s important to think about how many colors can be part of a food and what you may be losing when you eliminate part of that food. For example, when a cucumber is peeled, prior to eating, it loses almost 50% of its total bioactive compounds because of removing the dark green skin and only consuming the whitish-green inner flesh. 

The following slide provides: 

  • The color categories that foods are broken into
  • A partial list of the bioactive compounds within each color group (list too extensive)
  • A partial list of health benefits provided by the compounds within each group (list too extensive)

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     This slide confirmed why, as a registered dietitian, I have often recommended that people consume as many naturally occurring colors in their diet, or simply “Eat a rainbow of color everyday” because it is a vital weapon in disease prevention and even part of the treatment of many conditions. 

This slide confirmed why, as a registered dietitian, I have often recommended that people consume as many naturally occurring colors in their diet, or simply “Eat a rainbow of color everyday” because it is a vital weapon in disease prevention and even part of the treatment of many conditions. 

Colorful Food Sources

Recommended Power Eating Plan

Below you'll find three different nutrition recommendation sources, mainly focused on prevention and overall health.

Although slightly different, they all have a common message:

Eat a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, and grains in any and all eating plans because there are numerous benefits from each individual food, each individual bioactive component of each food, and they have a synergistic relationship, which means they work together to maintain health as much as possible. 

1. The AICR (American Institute for Cancer Research) recommends using the New American Plate method for cancer prevention. It recommends adhering to normal serving/portion sizes and “Aim for meals made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits whole grains or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein” link to more specifics about this

2. The ACS (American Cancer Society) recommends “eating a balanced diet that includes 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day and choosing whole grains over refined grains and sugar-sweetened products” link to more specifics about this

3. The USDA Choose MyPlate recommends “make half your plate fruits and vegetables” focusing on a variety of whole forms of the foods and “make half your grains whole” link to more specifics

This blog has only partially touched the tip of the iceberg because there is so much more to learn about bioactive compounds in our foods. Subjects such as how the effects of processing (types of cooking) can decrease or increase the bioactive compounds of many foods is fascinating. For example, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods website, when carrots are steamed the antioxidant content increases by 291% but when carrots are boiled, the antioxidant content only increases by 121-159% and peeling an apple lowered the antioxidant properties by 33-66%.   

Enjoy discovering all you can about the benefits of having a colorful plate with the resources below!


AND- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Many resources pertaining to antioxidants

AICR “The Cancer Fighters in Your Food” PDF

IFM- Institute of Functional Medicine “Phytonutrient-Spectrum-Comprehensive-Guide – The Health Edge” PDF

Reader’s Digest article “Which Antioxidant-Rich Fruits and Vegetables Should You Be Eating?”

ScienceDaily article: “Antioxidant Levels In Cooked Vegetables Vary With Cooking Method Healthier To Griddle-Cook Or Microwave