Patriotic Pigments: Eat your red, white & blue!


Looking down at my breakfast this morning, luscious berries in a cushion of oatmeal, I was suddenly overcome with patriotism. Well, at least I was struck by the patriotic resemblance to our nation’s red, white and blue banner as Fourth of July nears.

And so, I became inspired to talk about the colors in our food!

Iredwhiteblue smallf you are making a dish to add to the panoply at your Independence Day backyard barbecue this summer, make sure to include your red, white and blues. Not only do they look pretty and taste good, but they’re incredibly healthy.

Foods get their color from pigments in their plants. Sure we need fat, carbohydrates and protein to survive, but even things in food like pigments have shown to be very beneficial.

Why are pigments awesome? They have incredible benefits for our bodies, especially when we eat a variety of them. For one, they have very effective antioxidants qualities. Antioxidants help protect the body from unstable oxygen molecules called “free radicals.” Free radicals can damage cells and tissues, which is what often leads to cancer cell formulation and propagation. Antioxidants, on the other hand, disarm these kamikaze molecules and help protect our cells from harm.

They’re also strong anti-inflammatory agents, which support a healthy heart and nervous system.

Are you sold yet? Here are some foods to think about adding to your 4th of July menu, and take full advantage of the benefits of our patriotic pigments.


Red purple color in food

  • Eggplant
  • Radish
  • Red cabbage
  • Red onions
  • Berries (blackberries, blueberries, currants, cherries, chokeberries, cranberries, black currants, elderberries, strawberries)
  • Oranges
  • Red grapes (and therefore, red wine!)


Purple / red-yellow colors in food

  • Beets
  • Spinach (raw)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Cashews

Both betalains and anthocyanins are a type of pigment called a flavanoid. These are foods you don’t want to boil. They are extremely water soluble, and the colors will leech very easily into the water and you lose these beneficial chemicals. Cooking also degrades these pigments very quickly, so the less heat, the better. The flavanoid may begin to break down, and thus the good stuff  with it.


Red / orange color in food

  • Tomatoes (sun dried and raw)
  • Tomato products (ketchup, tomato paste, tomato soup, marinara sauce, etc., and salsa!)
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Mango
  • Guava
  • Persimmons
  • Asparagus
  • Papayas
  • Red bell peppers
  • Rutabagas

Lycopene is a pigment chemical called a caratenoid. It is fat soluble, so we tend to store it in our fat rather than pass it every day like our soluble pigments. Although non-toxic, be careful not to eat too many caratenoids, or else you may start to take on a reddish, orangish glow (unless you like that “spray on tan” look this summer)!


Cream / white color in foods

  • Cauliflower
  • White onions
  • Rice
  • White potatoes
  • Jicama
  • Mushrooms
  • Parsnips
  • Bananas / Plantains
  • Celery root
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Kolhrabi
  • Bok choy
  • Shallots
  • Water chestnuts
  • White asparagus
  • Tan pears
  • Tan figs
  • Turnips
  • White beans
  • White nectarines
  • White peaches
  • White eggplant

Have a happy and safe (and healthy!) July 4th!


Is there a favorite barbecue recipe or treat you have that uses any of the reds, whites, or blues? I’d love to hear about them.

Leave a comment below!





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