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Why you should be maintaining a colorful diet

colorful diet

/ by Sean O'Nan, MS, RD, LD

Written by Sean O'Nan, a registered dietitian at UK Markey Cancer Center.

Growing up, you may have been told to eat fruits and vegetables of many different colors to help maintain a healthy diet – but why? While fruits and vegetable will contain a variety of vitamins and mineral your body needs, they also provide essential phytochemicals that can help maintain bodily systems and prevent against certain diseases.

Phytochemicals, also called phytonutrients, are plant-derived compounds found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains, and they are believed to be responsible for helping prevent certain diseases. Depending on the color of your foods, you may be consuming a different variety of phytochemicals, each with their own health benefits.

Maintaining a healthy diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetable is not only a recommendation for cancer survivors, but is something the whole family can benefit from. When shopping for fresh produce, the American Institute of Cancer Research recommends looking for brightly colored items as they are often the best sources of phytochemicals.

Below are a few different phytochemicals and their benefits:


Food Source

Potential Benefits


(ex. beta-carotene and lycopene)

Red, Orange, and Green fruits and vegetables (ex. carrots, tomatoes, leafy greens, broccoli)

May inhibit growth of some cancer cells and help fortify your immune system


(ex. anthocyanins)

Red, Blue, and Purple berries as well as apples, onions, and some citrus fruits.

May inhibit inflammation and tumor growth; boost production of detoxifying enzymes


Soy products (ex. soy beans, soy milk)

May inhibit tumor growth and decrease production of cancer-related hormones


Green tea, grapes, berries, citrus fruits, whole grains, peanuts

May prevent inflammation and work as an antioxidant

For additional information regarding diet and nutrition for cancer patients at UK Markey Cancer Center, please call 859-323-2798 and ask to speak with a registered dietitian.