Eat a Rainbow of Red Food
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, red cherries, red grapes, pomegranates, red apples, red plums, rhubarb, pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava, tomatoes, red peppers, radishes, radicchio and red onions.
A healthy heart, lowering the risk of some cancers and protecting the skin from ultra-violet light.
Why Should I Eat Them?
Red foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, guava and pink grapefruit are a good source of a carotenoid called lycopene, which gives these foods their red colour. This antioxidant has been shown to help protect against cancers of the lung, colon, oesophagus, breast and skin. However, it’s thought to be a true health hero when it comes to preventing prostate cancer. Five studies suggest the risk of prostate cancer drops by 30-40 percent when high intakes of tomatoes or lycopene are consumed.
An Italian study reveals that consuming seven or more servings of tomatoes or tomato products every week, compared with less than two servings, may reduce the risk of gastric cancer by 50 percent. Research also shows that lycopene may help to lower blood cholesterol and so may reduce the risk of heart disease. And foods rich in lycopene may also help to make the skin more resistant to sunlight.
In a small British study, adults who consumed a large amount of tomato puree (5tbsp) with olive oil every day for 12 weeks and then were exposed to UV sunlight at the beginning and end of the trial had 33 percent more protection against sunburn than those who just consumed olive oil! Far more research is needed to understand the potential skin protective effects of lycopene and it’s unlikely that eating more lycopene-rich foods such as tomatoes will ever replace sun safety messages such as advice to wear sun-screen. That said, adding more to your diet is unlikely to do any harm.
Better still, our bodies are able to absorb more lycopene when it’s in the form of food that’s been cooked or processed. This makes tomatoes an important provider of lycopene – ketchup, puree, canned tomatoes and ready-made sauces all contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes, and the body is better able to use it. Adding fat also seems to boost the absorption even more, so don’t be afraid to serve tomatoes with a little mozzarella or drizzling a salad with a teaspoon of olive oil.
It’s not just lycopene that gives red foods their health hero status. Many, including cherries, cranberries, red plums, red onions, radishes, raspberries and strawberries are also good sources of anthocyanins, which are also found in large amounts in blue and purple foods (see Purple and Blue).
How To Eat More Red Foods...
- Make a berry smoothie from a mixture of raspberries and strawberries
- Swap a glass of orange juice for a glass of unsweetened cranberry juice
- Add sliced red peppers, radishes and red onions to salads
- Start your morning with half a pink grapefruit
- Swap calorie-laden chips and dips for fat-free salsa with red pepper sticks
- Add a can of chopped tomatoes or a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree to stews or casseroles
- Have a bowl of tomato soup for a tasty, low-fat lunch
- Snack on a punnet of raspberries when hunger hits
- Mix wholewheat pasta with a ready-made jar of low-fat tomato sauce and serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan and salad
- Add radicchio leaves to your regular salad
- Roast cherry tomatoes, red peppers and red onions with fresh herbs and a little olive oil and serve as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish
- Choose red apples such as Royal Gala, Pink Lady, Red Delicious or Braeburn over green varieties such as Golden Delicious or Granny Smith
- Add a handful of strawberries or raspberries to breakfast cereal or porridge.
To Find Out More:
Get inspired to boost your red food intake with the WLR Food Diary and Recipe Database. Track your fruit and veg portions and try a new recipe to help you eat a rainbow. Try it free for 24 hours.