The saying ‘eat the rainbow’ refers to the importance of eating a variety of differently coloured fresh fruit and vegetables. This is because fresh fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, each one having a different protective effect. Each different coloured fruit or vegetable contains a different type of polyphenol.
Antioxidants help to ‘mop up’ or neutralise free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules of oxygen that have lost an electron, and they move around the body scavenging electrons from other, more stable oxygen molecules. While doing this, free radicals can cause damage to our cells and our DNA. If they are free to do this on a regular basis, it can lead to chronic inflammation, which can lead to oxidative stress, which can lead to chronic diseases like cancer.
Free radicals enter the body via several means, including breathing in toxins and environmental pollutants, smoking and eating lots of processed foods that are high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. But they’re also produced by the body as a natural consequence of normal bodily functions, like breathing and digestion. Even if we lead a virtuous life, we’re still under attack from free radicals, so it’s important that we eat plenty of antioxidants that donate their electrons to free radicals, effectively neutralising them.
Carrots are orange, obviously, and sometimes purple if you eat the heritage variety and, therefore, contain antioxidant polyphenols called carotenoids which are shown to have anti-cancer properties.