In The Rainbow Explained, I provided a quick overview of the nutritional benefits of different colored fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper into each color of the natural food rainbow!
In this article, I’ll focus on the incredible powers of orange fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Let’s dive into the treasure trove of healing, nourishing, and detoxifying nutrients that exist in whole, plant-based orange foods.
A deeper dive into orange fruits, vegetables, and legumes
Orange foods strengthen your immune and anti-inflammatory systems, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, repair cells, promote bone health, protect your skin, and improve your vision.
Orange fruits include apricots, cantaloupe, clementines, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papaya, persimmons, and tangerines.
Orange vegetables include acorn squash, orange bell peppers, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes.
Orange legumes include orange lentils.
The healthy nutrients and elements in orange fruits, vegetables, and legumes
Vitamin A (Carotenoids): Carotenoids are plant compounds that can convert to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A has many functions, such as promoting healthy vision and supporting the immune and inflammatory systems, cell growth, reproduction, and bone health. When most people think of carotenoids, they think of carrots. Carrots are indeed a good source of carotenoids/Vitamin A, and so are mangoes (fresh or dried), cantaloupe, papayas, pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut squash, orange bell peppers, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a huge immunity booster and an antioxidant that helps our bodies fight against free radicals that can damage our cells, organs, and tissues. It has been linked to protection against cancer, heart disease, and other ailments. Vitamin C plays an important role in the natural healing process, and it is a building block for your blood vessels, bones, cartilage, and muscles. Oranges, clementines, and tangerines are probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Vitamin C, but cantaloupes, mangoes, papayas, persimmons, acorn squash, butternut squash, orange bell peppers, and sweet potatoes are also good sources of Vitamin C.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects our cells, organs, and tissues from free radicals. It also plays an important role in cardiovascular health, healthy vision, healthy skin, the reproductive system, cellular health, and immunity. Vitamin E is a building block for red blood vessels and acts as a blood thinner, which can reduce clotting. Vitamin E is fat-soluble, so it’s best to consume Vitamin E foods with a bit of healthy fat for optimal absorption. Butternut squash, mangoes, and pumpkin seeds are good sources of Vitamin E.
Bioflavonoids: Another important group of phytonutrients in orange-colored foods is bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoids are important because they work together with vitamin C to reduce the risk of heart attacks and cancer. They also help maintain strong bones, teeth, healthy skin, and good vision. Bioflavonoids are found in oranges, tangerines, clementines, mangoes, papayas, peaches, and nectarines.
Fisetin: Fisetin is a flavonoid, a chemical compound found in plants that provides antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory effects. Mangoes and persimmons are good sources of fisetin.
Folate: Folate, also known as vitamin B-9 or folic acid, is an important building block for red blood cells and cellular health. Cantaloupe, mangoes, papayas, oranges, clementines, tangerines, pumpkins, and orange lentils are good sources of folate.
Potassium: Potassium is a mineral that helps optimize your heart health, and it also acts as an electrolyte that regulates your blood pressure and strengthens your muscles. Most people think about bananas when they think about potassium, but there are many orange foods that are potassium-rich. Apricots (both fresh and dried), oranges (especially orange juice), cantaloupe, orange lentils, acorn squash, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes are all good sources of potassium.
Lycopene: Lycopene is a phytonutrient/antioxidant that fights against free radicals that can do damage in the body. It also promotes cellular health and has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer. Studies suggest it may protect against cancers of the prostate, breast, and skin, and reduce the risk of heart attacks. While red foods are usually associated with high levels of lycopene, papayas and persimmons are also great sources of lycopene.
Fiber: Fiber provides a wealth of benefits to your well-being: It famously promotes gastrointestinal health (i.e. “keeps you regular”). It also helps regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, prevent heart disease, and reduce intestinal inflammation. Orange lentils, acorn squash, butternut squash, sweet potatoes (especially with the skin), pumpkin seeds, cantaloupe, mangoes, oranges (especially the peels), nectarines, papaya, peaches, and apricots (especially dried apricots) are all good sources of fiber.
Magnesium: Magnesium is an element that plays an important role in hundreds of chemical reactions throughout your nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune system, and muscular system. Orange lentils, cantaloupe, papaya, pumpkin seeds, oranges (including fresh orange juice), and tangerines are good sources of magnesium.
Calcium: Calcium is most commonly associated with stronger bones and teeth, but it also has many more healthy benefits for your body. It plays an important role in cardiovascular health, the movement of your muscles, your hormonal responses, and your nervous system. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium in the most efficient way, so it’s best to pair calcium-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin D, such as mushrooms, egg yolks, and salmon. Oranges (including fresh orange juice), tangerines, mangoes (fresh or dried), papaya, and orange lentils are good sources of calcium.
Iron: Iron is synonymous with strength — both inside and outside the body. Your body uses it to create hemoglobin, which delivers oxygenated blood from your lungs to the rest of your body. Iron can increase your energy levels, strengthen your muscles, boost your physical performance, increase brain function, and improve your immune system. The iron found in plants is non-heme iron, which is best absorbed when combined with vitamin C. Most plant foods that contain iron also contain vitamin C, but it doesn’t hurt to add vitamin C-rich foods such as tomatoes, bell peppers, berries, citrus, or greens to aid absorption. Acorn squash, apricots (dried), butternut squash, orange lentils, peaches (dried), and pumpkin seeds are good sources of iron.
Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that is a building block for healthy DNA. It also helps your metabolism and digestive system, and it’s essential to your cellular health, your immune system, and your nervous system. Orange lentils and pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc.
Magnesium: Magnesium is an element that plays an important role in hundreds of chemical reactions throughout your nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune system, and muscular system. Pumpkin seeds are loaded with magnesium.
Manganese: Manganese is a mineral with antioxidant properties that plays an important role in the health of your brain, your bones, your reproductive system, and your nervous system. Manganese is a building block for connective tissue and blood clots, and it also helps regulate blood sugar and optimize your metabolism. Acorn squash and sweet potatoes are great sources of manganese.
Catechins: Catechins are phytochemicals with powerful antioxidant properties, and they’ve been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and the ability to fight against several forms of cancer. Apricots and sweet potatoes are good sources of catechins.
Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbs are “good carbs.” They’re more nutrient-dense and fiber-rich than simple carbs such as sugars. In fact, complex carbs help regulate blood sugar, which makes them an ideal option for anyone struggling with diabetes. Acorn squash, butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and orange lentils are complex carbohydrates.
Special tips for getting the most nutrition out of orange fruits, vegetables, and legumes
Be careful when buying dried fruits: Some orange fruits, such as apricots and mangoes, are often found in dried form. These fruits have healthy benefits when they are consumed both fresh and dried, but many store-bought dried fruits will most likely have sugar and sulfites added. Be sure to read the label carefully to make sure there are no added sugars. If you are sensitive to sulfites, it is best to avoid sulfite-treated dried fruits. Pay attention to how your body responds to sulfites; the sulfites in red wines, for example, cause some people to have headaches.
Cook those carrots (and other carotenoid-rich foods)! It’s best to cook some foods, including carrots, to get the highest amount of carotenoids. Boiling carrots whole increases retention of falcarinol, a compound that helps fight against some forms of cancer. Carotenoid-containing vegetables that are higher in fiber require the heat of cooking to free the carotenoids from the fiber and other nutrient-binding compounds. Once you’ve liberated the carotenoids from the food by cooking, you will need fat to shuttle them into the body. Carotenoids are fat-soluble—they must be eaten with fat to become more available to the body. Therefore, eating cooked carrots with a healthy fat like avocado, walnuts, or a small amount of olive oil will maximize your body’s absorption of beta-carotene.
Eat bioflavonoids whole, raw, and uncooked: In contrast to carotenoids, bioflavonoids are water-soluble. That means they don’t require cooking or fat for best absorption. In fact, cooking bioflavonoid-rich foods, such as oranges, tangerines, clementines, mangoes, papayas, peaches, and nectarines, could be detrimental as it leads to breakdown of these important compounds.
Try calcium-rich orange foods instead of dairy: Cows get their calcium from the plants they consume. That means you can still enjoy a calcium-rich diet while avoiding dairy products such as cheese, milk, and cream, which are high in calories, high in saturated fat, and high in cholesterol. Dairy products are actually associated with increased risk of osteoporosis, and most studies of fracture risk provide little or no evidence that milk or other dairy products benefit your bones. Unlike those dairy products, healthier calcium sources such as oranges, tangerines, mangoes, papaya, and orange lentils are filled with fiber and can aid bowel function.
Feed your mind and mood with these orange foods: Foods rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin E, including a wide variety of orange foods, act as powerful antioxidants and prevent the accumulation of free radicals in the brain. Pumpkin seeds also aid the production of serotonin, the “happy” hormone that helps reduce feelings of stress and anxiety in the brain and promotes a sense of peacefulness and well-being.
Tips for eating orange peels: Orange peels are one of the most nutrient-dense parts of the fruit, as they’re loaded with nutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folate, potassium, bioflavonoids, and carotenoids. However, even though orange peels are perfectly safe (and very healthy!) to eat, many people don’t like the bitter taste of citrus peels. If that is the case for you, try grating orange peel into your salads and smoothies or add orange peels to your herbal teas.
Balance orange foods to regulate blood sugar: Keep in mind that many orange vegetables are relatively high in sugar (like carrots) and even quite starchy (like squashes). Therefore, you will want to eat these foods in a mixed meal with other foods that will blunt any potential spikes in blood sugar. Adding some oil to these foods will help bring down the glycemic response, as will adding protein to the meal. Remember, be careful when eating dried orange fruits: Store-bought dried fruits often have added sugars and sulfites, so read the label carefully.
Boost your body’s defenses with bioflavonoids: Another important group of phytonutrients in orange-colored foods is bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoids are important because they work together with vitamin C to reduce the risk of heart attacks and cancer. They also help maintain strong bones, teeth, healthy skin, and good vision. Bioflavonoids are found in oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, clementines, peaches, and nectarines, as well as in yellow foods like lemons and pineapple.
Turmeric, the spice of life: The root of the turmeric plant has vibrant orange-yellow innards, and you can usually find it in powdered form. Turmeric powder and turmeric root contain curcuminoids, which are potent anti-inflammatory compounds. You may want to sprinkle turmeric powder or grate turmeric root into stir-fries or even into smoothies!
Learn more about the other colors of the food rainbow
By consuming every color in the natural food rainbow, you will be flooding your body, systems, organs, cells, and DNA with so many nourishing, healing, and restorative nutrients. Your food will become medicine! Learn how each color in the rainbow can help you experience improvements in joint pain, sleep patterns, energy levels, mood, bloating, headaches, digestive issues, weight, and other conditions.
Red Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
Yellow Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
Green Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
Brown, Tan, and White Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
Black, Blue, and Purple Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
The Rainbow Explained: An Overview of the Benefits of Different Colored Whole Foods