Science is amazing, but it has its limits. We have been able to identify all the molecules in certain foods. We understand the bonds that keep the individual molecules together. And yet, we cannot build an apple fit for consumption. I am willing to accept that nature knows best most of the time.

Consume a whole, plant food and you not only reap the benefits of molecules essential to life, namely the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), you also are the beneficiary of that plant’s lifelong battle to protect itself. To protect themselves against oxidative damage and invaders like diseases and pests, plants generate molecules called phytonutrients (or phytochemicals to be precise).   Consume the plant and the protective effects are transferred to you.

Each phytonutrient has its own color, so they are fairly easy to identify. Consume a rainbow of colors and you will be taking in a variety of phytonutrients, each with its own unique health benefit. Over 4,000 phytonutrients and their health benefits have been identified – we will highlight a few by their colors here:

RED: Lycopene

FOODS: Tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit

BENEFITS: May reduce risk of heart attacks and certain cancers, notably prostate cancer

ORANGE: Beta-carotene

FOODS: Carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, pumpkin, squash, mangoes

BENEFITS: Supports immune system, powerful antioxidant, may prevent certain cancers, prevents age-related macular degeneration

WHITE: Indoles

FOODS: Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, cabbage (chlorophyll, a green molecule, masks the indoles in some of these foods)

BENEFITS: Powerful toxin and carcinogen eliminators

RED/PURPLE: Anthocyanins

FOODS: Blueberries, beets, raspberries, blackberries, acai berries, eggplant

BENEFITS: Powerful antioxidants that may promote healthy blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease, improve brain function and lower risk of cancer.

While phytonutrients are not essential for life, they are powerful disease fighters. Consume plenty of whole, plant-based foods, both cooked and raw, with a variety of colors and you will give your body nature’s best defenses.