Seeing red

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It’s been said that the color red represents fire, passion, desire and love. It’s also a color of courage, action and confidence. When most of us hear the phrase, “eat colorful fruits and vegetables”, red nearly always come to mind. Researchers find that the color red is stimulating, exciting and associated with increased activity. It’s also associated with fast food, which is why people assume it increases appetite. However, it doesn’t increase your desire to eat. Studies show that if a color is associated with a fond memory (such as eating a happy meal as a kid), we’re more attracted to it, which could be why so many fast food restaurants use red in their logos.1

This next series on Food and Health Communications will focus on eating the rainbow. Red is the first color we’ll review. The color series is inspired the salad we created for our new rainbow poster!

Currently, nearly everyone in the country is experiencing tomato season. There are over 3000 varieties of tomatoes available from tiny grape tomatoes for snacking or salads to beefsteak tomatoes enjoyed on sandwiches and in salads. Tomatoes provide the phytochemical lycopene, which has been linked with reduction of hormonally based cancers including prostate and ovarian cancer. New research also indicates that lycopene may improve vascular function and reduce atherosclerosis. 2 While tomatoes are often enjoyed fresh, lycopene becomes more bioavailable when a tomato is cooked or processed. Watermelon is another source of lycopene. In addition to lycopene, tomatoes are also a great source of vitamin C and potassium, making them heart-healthy and good for immunity.

Strawberries are still in season around the country as well, though their peak season is late spring. It’s no coincidence that strawberries are heart-shaped. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C in addition to folic acid and fiber. Raspberries are another beautiful red fruit to enjoy, though they parish quickly. Raspberries provide a whopping 8 grams of fiber per cup and only 65 calories, making them a great snack for dieters. Strawberries and raspberries are both high in ellagic acid, a polyphenol with anticancer properties that’s also shows promise in reducing inflammation related to pancreatitis. 3 Berries of any kind should be stored unwashed in the refrigerator and used within 2-3 days of harvest or purchase. They can also be frozen to be used in smoothies, fruit compotes or sauces.

Another red food to encourage in your clients’ diets is bell peppers. In addition to vitamin C, bell peppers are a great source of beta-carotene. In fact, red peppers contain 10 x the amount of vitamin C and 1.5 times as much beta carotene as green peppers. Peppers can be eaten raw with a dip, tossed in a salad or sautéed and used in Mexican and Italian cuisine, soups, stews and egg dishes. They add beautiful color, taste and texture to several recipes.

Finally, you can’t beat a beet! Beets are known for their beautiful crimson hue, but they’re also a nutritional powerhouse. Beets are high in folate and manganese and provide just 44 calories in a 3 ½ oz. serving. Fresh beets can be sliced, seasoned and roasted and served as a side dish or chopped and added to salads. The pickled beets you find in a can are also nutritious, but may contain a bit more sodium. Unsalted varieties are also available.

Beets make great pickles! The acid in the cooking liquid locks in their beautiful color.

Red Pickles

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 sliced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons sugar or honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 4 cups sliced beets

Roast the beets for 1 hour at 350 degrees on foil or a baking tray until they are fork tender. Allow the beets to cool so you can handle them. Slip the beets out of their skins and slice into 1/4 inch slides. Discard the skins. Set the beets to the side.

Combine vinegar, onion, sugar, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 2 minutes. Add the beets. Bring the liquid and beets back to the boil. Remove from heat and place beets and liquid in canning jars

Add beets and bring to a boil.  Place beets and liquid in canning jars with tight lids and refrigerate. Serve the red pickles with salads, sandwiches, baked or grilled items, or on veggie burgers!

Here is a printable PDF handout about eating more red fruits and veggies. 


  2. Ioana Mozos,1,2,*Dana Stoian,3Alexandru Caraba,4 Clemens Malainer,5 Jaros?aw O. Horba?czuk,6 andAtanas G. Atanasov6,7,* Lycopene and vascular health. Front Pharmacol. 2018; 9: 521.

3. Polyphenols in the Prevention of Acute Pancreatitis in Preclinical Systems of Study: A Revisit

Elroy Saldanha, ... Manjeshwar Shrinath Baliga, in Polyphenols: Mechanisms of Action in Human Health and Disease (Second Edition), 2018

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


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