By Carl Hanson

The rainbow connection.

People who eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day live longer than people who rarely or never eat produce. So says a recent study from Sweden, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

When you "eat the rainbow," which is to say, enjoy a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, you'll derive many health benefits. Beyond vitamins and fiber, colorful produce packs cancer-fighting, free-radical-destroying, and tumor suppressing properties, along with compounds that help boost the immune system. Let's take a look at what the different pigments are doing for us — and toss in some top-rated recipes!

Strawberry Melon Summer Salad | Photo by lutzflcat


Lycopene is a red pigment, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruits. It's thought to have cancer-fighting and free-radical destroying qualities.

Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce | Photo by Meredith
Grapefruit and Avocado Salad | Photo by Meredith

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Red, Purple, and Blue

Colorful fruits and veggies like blueberries, beets, grapes, red cabbage, plums, strawberries, and cherries may help protect against heart disease. They all contain a potent antioxidant called anthocyanins.

Related: Gorgeous Recipes for the Purple Produce You've Been Eyeing

Grandma Jeanette's Amazing German Red Cabbage

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Foods with orange flesh — like sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, pumpkins, and acorn squash — feature beta carotene, an antioxidant that protects cells and battles against cancer-causing free radicals. What's more, the body turns beta carotene into vitamin A, which helps maintain the immune system and assists in keeping eyes and skin healthy. Orange foods also contain alpha carotene, which is linked to a reduction in certain cancers. Foods that are yellowy-orange — including oranges, nectarines, and peaches — have the antioxidant beta cryptoxanthin, which is thought to help reduce the growth of tumors.

Roasted Beets 'n' Sweets | Photo by Jessica
Chef John's Nectarine Salsa | Photo by Chef John

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Green beans, bell peppers, spinach, green peas, and cucumbers all contain two carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin), which fight free radicals and calibrate the immune system so it's ready for action. Carotenoids also keep the eyes healthy; they reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.

Lemon Pea Salad | Photo by lutzflcat
Strawberry Spinach Salad I | Photo by janelle

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Want more foods from the rainbow? Check out our collections of Fruit Recipes and Vegetable Recipes.