The rainbow of antioxidants: why we want them all

The rainbow of antioxidants: why we want them all

February 03, 2017

By Nutritionist, Samantha Gemmell

Have you ever seen the latest superfood boasting about its antioxidant super-powers? Antioxidants are the new favourite in the health world, and for good reason. Without antioxidants, we would all be much sicker and sadder.
But the thing is – we don't just want a couple of types of antioxidants in large quantities. When it comes to antioxidants, you want to aim for a wide variety in moderate doses.
Why is this? Well, firstly you need to understand a bit about what antioxidants are, and how they work in the body.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are sort of the bouncers of the body. When our bodies become inflamed or have too many toxic substances running around, bad guys called oxidants start damaging cells.

Antioxidants go after these oxidants and deactivate them before too much damage can be done.

Antioxidants also help in other essential body mechanisms such as detoxification and immunity.

Why do we want a rainbow?

Different types of antioxidants give food a different colour. That's why we've always been encouraged to 'eat the rainbow' of fruit and vegetables. Different coloured fruits and vegetables also have different types of vitamins and minerals as well, so it's a double-nutrition hit.


Red is always a good choice, especially when it comes to produce. Red fruits and vegetables are packed to the brim with lycopene, an antioxidant with many powers. Lycopene is protective of the heart and against cancer, particularly for male cancers.

Ready to get red? Look out for your red fruits strawberries, cherries, watermelon, red apples and raspberries. You have vegetable options such as tomato, red capsicum and radishes too.

Lycopene is also a unique antioxidant – it is more bio-available when cooked and consumed with fat. So make sure you enjoy your homemade pasta sauce with a sprinkle of good quality cheese or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for maximum impact.

Yellow & Orange

Happy colours orange and yellow really do give you a better outlook on life! These brightly coloured options are full of carotenoids, antioxidants that can also convert to essential fat-soluble vitamins. These are particularly protective of your eye health, preventing age-related damage and deterioration.

Want to see more clearly? Your fruit options include lemon, pineapple, mango, oranges, peaches, nectarines and apricots. For vegetables, you're looking at pumpkin, sweet potato, squashes and corn.


You might think white means without colour, but it's certainly not without antioxidants. White or pale fruits and vegetables offer potent anti-microbial antioxidants. A common example is allicin, found in crushed garlic. White is the perfect colour for boosting your immune system.

Want to try the whiter side? Your 'white' fruits include bananas, white peaches, pears and dates. For vegetables, you're looking at garlic, potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower and parsnips.


We all know that we need to eat more greens! But the reasons might not be quite as clear. Antioxidants that give a green hue are potent anti-cancer heroes.

Indoles found in cruciferous vegetables and carotenoids are two types of antioxidant that are being researched for their anti-cancer properties. In fact, they may one day offer a less toxic answer to chemotherapy.

Green vegetables also tend to be high in fibre and have plenty of folate. Folate is necessary for healthy development during pregnancy, heart health and brain health.

Need to stock up on green options? Pick up some green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and lettuce. Add in some broccoli, avocado, cucumber and celery. Remember your fruits as well – green apples, green grapes, kiwi fruit and limes all offer green goodness.

Purple & Blue

These fruits and vegetables offer more than just a pretty hue to your plate. They're also packed full of potent antioxidant antho-cyanin. This antioxidant can protect your cells from damage and inflammation, meaning a lower chance of cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Ready to get colourful? There's plenty of purple to choose from. For your fruits, look out for plums, purple grapes, blueberries and blackberries. If it's vegetables you need, you can choose from eggplant, purple/red cabbage and beetroot.


Brown might be your least favourite colour in clothes, but it should be your favourite for food! Brown is where you find our friend cacao on the antioxidant scale.

Cacao is packed full of a class of antioxidants called catechins. Catechins are generally found in cacao and teas, and are incredible for supporting a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.

So the next time you're looking for a health boost, try to look somewhere over the rainbow.

What is your favourite antioxidant colour combination?

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