Eating a variety of colors of foods is really important because you find different nutrients in different colored foods, so eating a diet with a great balance of different colors can help your body to get everything that it needs to keep you as healthy as possible. Not to mention the fact that eating a rainbow is just so much fun, check out all of these yummy rainbow recipes – truly a feast for the eyes!
It’s no secret that I love bright rainbow colors, and if we’re talking about edible rainbows, then all the better! I’ve created a list of my top 10 healthy rainbow food ideas, all of which are free from food colorings, using the natural rainbow colors found in fruit and vegetables, just as nature intended. I frequently think that we are so lucky to have access to such an amazing range of fruit and vegetables, it has never been so easy to eat a rainbow!
The vast spectrum of natural color in fresh produce is astounding! Color also happens to be a very useful indicator (and constant reminder) of the many magical health benefits of fresh plant-based foods. The deep greens, vibrant reds, deep purples, bright oranges & yellows that we see in common and widely available foods provide far more than just “a rainbow” of colorful visual stimulation.
Rainbow diets are a great way to get all of the nutrition you need, as well as making your meals exciting and delicious all at the same time! In part one we looked at what benefits Green, Orange, Red, and White foods bring to the table, so let’s keep going and see what the other colors mean!
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Is your daily diet starting to look a little bland and boring? Then maybe it’s time to add a little color to your plate. Not only do bright colors make food more fun to eat, but healthy fruits and vegetables in vivid colors have another huge benefit: Different colors typically mean foods have different vitamins and minerals. No single food can provide us with a variety of nutrients we need, so eating foods of different colors can help ensure we get the variety we need. Your guide to essential nutrients in vegetables and fruits by color.
Harness the power of Red: Whether you choose red bell peppers, tomatoes, tart cherries, cranberries, raspberries, rhubarb, pomegranates, or beets, all of these healthy fruits and vegetables are positively packed with antioxidants such as vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamin C, manganese, and fiber, making them great for heart health and overall good health, too. Plus, red apples have quercetin, a compound that seems to fight colds, flu, and allergies. And tomatoes, watermelon, and red grapefruit are loaded with lycopene, a compound that’s said to fight cancer.
Look out for orange: Move around the color wheel just a bit, and you’ll find butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, oranges, pumpkins, orange peppers, nectarines, and peaches. Some healthy fruits and vegetables are loaded with the antioxidant vitamin C — citrus fruits in particular — and some, such as carrots, with vitamin A (beta-carotene) for improved eyesight. They also contain potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6 for general health support.
Say Yes to Yellow: Bananas are usually the first yellow food that comes to mind, and with plentiful fiber for good digestion, potassium for preventing cramps, and vitamin B6 for a variety of health benefits, they pack a big punch. Healthy vegetables in yellow include spaghetti squash, summer squash, and yellow bell peppers. The nutrients in vegetables such as these include manganese, potassium, vitamin A, fiber, and magnesium.
Go Green: Virtually all greens are healthy vegetables and worth adding to your daily diet. Focus on spinach, broccoli, and asparagus. Lutein and folate are two nutrients in vegetables. Lutein helps with eyesight, folate helps in cell reproduction, and prevents neural tube defects in infants.
Try a little something Blue: You may be stretching to add blue to your diet, but one healthy fruit is in a class of itself. Blueberries are known to be one of the most powerful antioxidants. Enjoy them any way you like. If you think of the ocean when you think blue, then put water in this category. Everyone put this “blue” item on your list. Water regulates body temperature and provides the means for nutrients to travel to all your organs. Water also transports oxygen to cells, removes waste, and protects joints and organs.
Give the Purple color a Go: Whether you choose blackberries, Concord grapes, currants, or plums, deep, rich purple healthy fruits are brimming with healthy antioxidants. Purple represents the anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant that protects the blood vessels from breakage and prevents the destruction of collagen, a protein needed for healthy, radiant skin. Aside from fruit, you can also find nutrients in vegetables of the color purple, such as radicchio, eggplant, purple cabbage, purple potatoes, and purple carrots, which are rich in vitamin A and flavonoids.
White rules: Though it doesn’t show up on the color wheel, a number of white foods — such as white onions, garlic, and leeks — serve up nutrients in vegetables. White represents allicin, a sulfur-containing compound that protects against atherosclerosis and heart disease, lowers cholesterol and increases HDL, and has an antibacterial effect against Candida albicans and bacteria. And don’t forget healthy vegetables such as cauliflower, rutabagas, and parsnips, which include vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and fiber.
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Have you ever heard that it is important to “eat a rainbow” of foods? This may be a good way to think about your diet because numerous functional foods can be recognized and grouped together by their color. Functional foods are foods or dietary components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. Examples can include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fortified or enhanced foods, and beverages, and certain dietary supplements. This fall, dive into the color of the various functional foods listed below and unlock the health benefits that may already be on your plate. An easy way to get more functional foods on your plate is to fill half of your plate with some of the colorful fruits and vegetables mentioned below.
The grandeur of green – In the nutritional sense, green is worth becoming a favorite color! It signifies energy, vibrancy, and cleansing! Green veggies and fruits too, such as watercress, spinach, chard, kale, courgettes, celery, dark seaweeds, rich green lettuces, kiwi fruits, gooseberries, cucumbers & asparagus possess some of the most crucial nutrients for health, energy production, detoxification, rejuvenation, and longevity.
Dark leafy greens such as watercress, lettuce, spinach, rocket, etc. are particularly crucial foods to try and get into the diet on a daily basis. These are rich in chlorophyll (similar in chemical structure to iron), many B vitamins, minerals, and fiber for an overall healthy body and blood system. Leafy greens are very alkalizing too, helping to buffer the typically acidic western diet that commonly underpins most states of disease.
Lutein is a particular plant antioxidant found in kale, chard, and romaine lettuce that helps to protect the eyes & ensure our long-term visual health. Broccoli is a well-loved and widely available vegetable, and actually a great source of vitamin C (as are Brussels sprouts!). Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant that reduces disease risk, boosts the immune system, improves iron absorption, and promotes wound healing too.
Green vegetables, in general, are excellent sources of vitamin A, and vitamin K too (known to be vitally important in building bone density), as well as many of the B vitamins (such as B6 and folic acid), potassium, carotenoids, and even omega-3 fatty acids. Green vegetables are also what you might term “low calorie, high nutrient” foods, so they can help significantly with weight loss too. Try replacing your starchy carbs (potatoes, bread, and pasta) with a selection of green vegetables, and you might find losing weight a whole lot easier!
Greens and green vegetables are also valuable protein sources, especially when eaten in the raw state. “Raw” means that the food enzymes stay intact, and enzymes are made of amino acids – yes protein! Any well-informed and healthy vegetarian will include plenty of green vegetables in their diet every day, and vegans have to rely fairly heavily on these foods for calcium, iron, and magnesium too.
Say YES to yellow & orange…
The words that spring to mind when orange or yellow foods come into view are heart, protection, and immunity. Vitamin C is certainly visible with yellow and orange foods. In this department, we have grapefruit, cantaloupe melon, persimmons or Sharon fruits, summer and winter squashes, yellow peppers, and carrots; all these are wonderful immune system boosters.
Fresh oranges as we know are rich in vitamin C, but so too are lemons, grapefruits, yellow peppers, and persimmons too. Grapefruits that have lovely pink and red hues also contain lycopene, a star “antioxidant” of the red food group. Cantaloupe melons incidentally are not only deliciously sweet fruits, but they’re also rich super-rich in polyphenol antioxidants. These polyphenols are known to help regulate the formation of nitric oxide, a key chemical, or gas, produced in many cells of the body from the amino acid arginine. Sufficient production of nitric oxide prevents heart attacks and ensures good blood circulation and blood flow.
Melons are also great sources of vitamin C and beta-carotene, or pro-vitamin A that is stored in the liver, and later converted to Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes and vision, as well as being a key “immune” supportive nutrient. Carrots also contain significant amounts of Vitamin C, as well as B6, and even iron. Let’s not forget squash, as these great winter and summer vegetables are excellent sources of the mineral potassium (important for regulating blood pressure), beta carotene, and many other minerals.
How about a colorful bunch of peppers :
- Sweet peppers from green, to yellow, to orange and red, beautifully illustrate how nutrient concentrations change with the colors.
- Yellow peppers typically contain more lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids than green peppers.
- Red peppers will usually have more lycopene and astaxanthin, two other important carotenoids.
- Orange peppers will deliver more alpha, beta, and gamma-carotene
- Purple peppers will provide more anthocyanin flavonoids – most notably found in blueberries, blackberries, and the new “super” Acai berry. Since all of these nutrients can make important contributions to your health, make sure you get into the habit of mixing and matching your use of sweet peppers in salads – go raw, stir-fry, steam-fry, or chargrill.
What’s in White: Just because a food appears to have no color, doesn’t necessarily mean “no nutrition”! Vibrant color certainly isn’t an exclusive indicator of phytochemical content. Whilst some phytochemical pigments do give amazing hues, others are in fact, colorless. Colorless pigments are found in foods such as cabbage, mushrooms, and onion. Most of the pigments we find in these, and other foods are collectively called flavonoids. Flavonoids are powerful food chemicals and counteract the free-radical formation and resultant damage to the body’s cells. When free-radical damage is not controlled, it can cause significant cellular changes, which can lead to cancer or other disease states.
Raving about Red: Strawberries, raspberries, and tomatoes immediately come to mind when thinking about foods. All are super-nutritious, as is the great winter red fruit, the pomegranate, with its sweet, sour and tangy flavors. Nutritionists love the pomegranate too, but more so because of its superfood powers! The rich red juice of the pomegranate is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is a concentrated source of antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin C, and minerals too.
Strawberries and other red berries, including cranberries are known rich sources of ellagitannins, polyphenols that the body uses to convert to ellagic acid. Ellagic acid has been widely studied in the laboratory, and scientists think it may play a key role in preventing cancer. Another red gem is the little cherry!
Cherries come around later in the year and for a relatively short period of time, so make the most of them when they do appear. Their deep red color again reveals the many amazing antioxidant pigments. These anthocyanin chemicals found in cherries are particularly effective in reducing pain and inflammation, just like pomegranate juice. Cherry juice and pomegranate juice are both commercially produced nowadays (look for 100% juice) and a perfect way to get your daily antioxidant hit!
Cherry juice has been found to help reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, and in turn, helping with muscle recovery. Cherries are also a great food if you or someone you know suffers from gout. Interestingly, cherries have also been found to contain melatonin, which is actually a hormone. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and regulates the body’s internal clock or sleep-wake cycle. It has other roles too, and research has shown that people who have heart attacks have low melatonin levels. It also plays an important role in the immune system.
Tomatoes are worth picking out amongst the red food group, partly because they are one of the best food sources of a well-known antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene is one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants, and in fact, you’ll find it in most red foods, as well as those foods with a pink or pinky-red hue. Think of watermelon, red or pink grapefruits and you are looking at some lycopene! Cooked tomatoes have very high levels of lycopene, and have been found to effectively prevent prostate cancer as well as be helpful to maintain good cardiovascular health.
An excellent way of ensuring a quality dose of lycopene is by using lots of tomato puree or rich tomato sauces in your cooking! Remember however that raw, ripe & juicy red tomatoes will have higher levels of other useful nutrients that have not been lost via cooking, so ensure you are getting these into your diet too. Lycopene may also slow the hardening of arteries and the growth of other cancer-related tumors.
Beetroot is begging for a mention of its own, with its deep red (almost purple) color. There has been some significant and very interesting research of late, with regards to beetroots, particularly beetroot juice. Science has revealed the effectiveness of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure, as well as improving exercise endurance and stamina. This is due to the juice being especially high in nitrates, compounds that convert to nitric oxide in the body.
Nitric oxide has several metabolic effects, such as dilating blood vessels (hence its blood pressure lowering effects) and helping deliver oxygen to working muscles. These and other findings of the health benefits of beetroot juice are also potentially relevant to those with heart disease, breathing complications, or modern-day metabolic diseases.
New research suggests that simple beetroot juice could be a very worthy contender to take the crown as a top sports drink. Certainly beetroot juice is much healthier, compared with many of the sugar-loaded sports and energy drinks on the market.
According to the findings published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, drinking half a liter of beetroot juice every day improved exercise endurance by 16 percent, compared with when they drank blackcurrant cordial. The boost in nitric oxide after drinking beetroot juice makes exercise less tiring. Beetroots are also a good source of the B vitamin, folic acid. Folic acid is critically involved in normal red cell production, so all in all, don’t be afraid to go bananas for beetroot!
Bursting for Blue and Purple :
Blueberries, blackberries, grapes, aubergine, plums, and figs are some of the purple foods we can include in our diets, and for great reason too! You will find some of the highest levels of anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidin pigments in these foods – potent antioxidants found in the fruit, bark, leaves, and seeds of plants. They provide flavor and astringency as well as powerful health benefits. Proanthocyanidin-rich grape seed extract, for example, has been found to have preventive actions on diseases such as atherosclerosis, gastric ulcer, large bowel cancer, cataracts, and diabetes.
One the easiest ways to get daily berry goodness year-round is to buy frozen summer berries from your local supermarket! By all means, choose fresh whenever you can, but fresh are not always available, or affordable. So make the use of frozen, and throw them into smoothies, or onto cereals or into porridge. Of course, you can just enjoy a big bowl full, with some cool natural yogurt, and a sprinkling of raw seeds – a perfect breakfast, or pudding.
Fresh plums and figs make excellent low sugar, low GI snacks, as well as being easy to carry or keep in the car. Both plums and figs also happen to be excellent sources of vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, Vitamin C, and fiber. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and other phytochemicals but are also a significant source of the trace mineral manganese, and Vitamin K too. Grapes have been positively linked to fighting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, and other ailments. Aubergines are a good soup or stew ingredient, and famously known as a key food in ratatouille, a dish in which you can use plenty of tomato puree and get your lycopene too! Aubergines are very low in calories, yet rich sources of potassium and calcium. Blueberries are often singled out as little nutritional powerhouses, which they are! Anthocyanins are the pigments responsible for the purple tint of these fruits, and purple veggies too, and are known for their antioxidant qualities. In addition to anthocyanins’ cancer-fighting potential, these plant chemicals also support the vascular system.
There are over 4,000 different plant chemicals in foods that present us with a spectrum of colors to create a truly healthy and balanced “rainbow diet” of whole foods. Nutrition today, and what is now known about healthy eating, extends far beyond the vitamins and minerals we learned about in school or college.
Tips to help you eat Rainbow food every day –
Use these tips to create more colorful meals:
- Eat a beautiful breakfast. Instead of boring bagels, eggs, or yogurt, start your day with a green smoothie, oatmeal topped with red berries, or a scramble filled with red peppers, mushrooms, carrots, or other colorful veggies.
- Enjoy exciting salads. Large, colorful salads are the perfect way to incorporate lots of colorful veggies (and fruits!) into your diet. Eat them for lunch or dinner. And try to have at least once per day.
- Liven up your lunch. Veggie sandwiches and wraps (including lettuce wraps) and soups, stews, and chili can help you get a balanced selection of colorful foods for lunch.
- Make vegetables the main dish. Try new recipes for dishes, such as tempeh vegetable stir-fries, vegetable curries, and Buddha bowls.
- Make a rainbow meal. Try creating a meal that uses every color — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, and brown. (If you have kids, they may love this idea.)
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Why eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is important for optimal health
Eating the rainbow is a fundamental healthy eating tip. (And no, not artificially colored foods )
But what does it mean? Why is it important to get a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet?
You may be tempted to find a few foods you or your kids or family members like and to focus on eating those. And it can be easy to fall into routines. But the truth is: Our bodies benefit from variety. For optimal health, we need a rainbow of nutrients and colors.
In fact, the variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables has enormous healing powers. And many of them bring their own distinctive colors.
Eating a diversity of colorful foods can be an easy way to get a complete range of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to thrive.
The advice to “eat the rainbow” is often used with kids. And while kids especially need a diversity of foods in their diets, so do adults.
Each color in fruits and vegetables is caused by specific phytonutrients, which are natural chemicals that help protect plants from germs, bugs, the sun’s harmful rays, and other threats.
And each color indicates an abundance of specific nutrients.
Red fruits and vegetables help fight cancer, reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease, improves skin quality, and much more.
Red fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals, including lycopene and ellagic acid. These powerful nutrients have been studied for their cancer-fighting effects and other health benefits.
For example, a daily dose of tomato sauce has been found to reverse the progression of prostate cancer. Watermelon is even higher in lycopene than tomatoes, and the lycopene may be more bioavailable.
Watermelon is also rich in a phytonutrient called citrulline, which may work as a treatment for mild to moderate erectile dysfunction.
Also, strawberries have been found to prevent and even reverse esophageal cancer.
Getting your phytonutrients from whole foods is best. In fact, taking phytonutrients, like lycopene and beta-carotene, in supplement form because it may increase the risk of cancer. But consuming these phytonutrients in whole-food forms, like tomato sauce, has been found to decrease the risk of cancer.
Healthy Red Foods
- Red peppers
- Red Apples
- Red Grapes
- Red onions
- Red Capsicum
Raspberries: Eating whole raspberries is more beneficial than taking the individual compounds as dietary supplements.
Peppers: High heat can damage some of the pepper’s beneficial nutrients, so it is best enjoyed raw or cooked using low heat for a short period of time.
Tomato: Lycopene is more potent in cooked tomato products such as sauces, soups, or stews.
Strawberries: Choose small strawberries as they tend to contain less water and more nutrition than large ones.
Watermelons: Watermelons continue to develop nutrients after they have been picked and are therefore best stored at room temperature.
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables improve immune function, reduce the risk of heart disease, promote eye health, and more
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C and carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Some carotenoids, most notably beta-carotene, convert to vitamin A within the body, which helps promote healthy vision and cell growth.
Citrus fruits contain a unique phytonutrient called hesperidin, which helps to increase blood flow. This has important health ramifications. If you tend to get cold hands and feet, eating an orange a day may help keep your hands and feet warm. More importantly, consuming citrus may also reduce your risk of stroke.
Healthy Orange and Yellow Foods to Try
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash (butternut, kabocha, delicata, acorn)
- Yellow summer squash
- Orange and yellow peppers
- Golden beets
Orange: Eat the orange whole instead of juicing it. The pith ( the white substance between the peel and flesh) is rich in fiber.
Mango: Mangos are rich in vitamins and minerals. However, due to the high level of fructose, they are best consumed in moderation.
Sweet Potato: Boil sweet potatoes with the skin on as this helps retain the levels of vitamin C.
Carrots: Carrots that are boiled whole retain 25% more of the cancer-fighting compound falcarinol compared to when they are chopped before being boiled.
Lemon Juice: Squeeze a bit of lemon juice on spinach to maximize the levels of iron.
Green fruits and vegetables boost the immune system, help detoxify the body, restore energy and vitality, and more.
Greens are one of the healthiest foods we can eat. Green fruits and vegetables are rich in lutein, isothiocyanates, isoflavones, and vitamin K — which is essential for blood and bone health.
In addition, green vegetables are rich in folate – a nutrient especially important for pregnant women to consume to help prevent congenital disabilities.
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, have been shown to enhance immune function, while dark leafy greens like kale may improve mood.
Kiwi fruit has been shown to help alleviate a wide array of maladies, from the common cold to IBS to insomnia, and may even help repair DNA damage.
Healthy Green Foods
- Romaine lettuce
- Collard greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Green grapes
- Green apples
- Green beans
- Kiwi fruit
- Green capsicum
Broccoli: Broccoli leaves are perfectly edible and contain concentrated levels of nutrients.
Kiwis: If you are making a fruit salad add the kiwis last minute. They contain enzymes that act as food tenderizers and can make the surrounding food soft.
Spinach: If you are cooking Spinach, opt for steaming rather than boiling to preserve the nutrients.
Zucchini: Spiralised Zucchini is an excellent alternative to pasta.
Lettuce: Instead of bread wraps, try wrapping your food in lettuce.
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables fight cancer and unwanted inflammation and help keep young
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables are rich in phytonutrients, including anthocyanins and resveratrol, and have been studied extensively for their anti-cancer and anti-aging properties.
Studies show that the bioactive phytochemicals in berries work to repair damage from oxidative stress and inflammation.
Red cabbage, which is purple, is one of the best superfood bargains and has the highest level of antioxidants per dollar.
Healthy Blue and Purple Foods
- Red (purple) grapes
- Red (purple) cabbage
- Purple asparagus
- Figs White
Blueberries: Eat blueberries raw as the valuable nutrients are damaged when exposed to temperature over 175C
Purple cabbage: Sauteed purple cabbage tastes great and allows for concentrated nutrient retention.
Plums: If you want to get the most from their high vitamin C content, eat plums raw.
Eggplant: Much of the eggplant nutrition is in the skin, so opt to cook it with skin on.
Blackberries: The health benefits of blackberries are extensive however, they should be consumed in moderation as they contain fructose.
White and brown fruits and vegetables protect against certain cancer, keep bones strong, and are heart-healthy choices.
White and brown produce may not be as brightly colored as other foods, but they still are a healthy choice and have phytonutrients.
Like broccoli, cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable rich in an anti-cancer compound called sulforaphane. Garlic and onions are in the allium family of vegetables and contain the powerful cancer-fighting compounds allicin and quercetin.
And phytonutrients in white button mushrooms have been found to inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation.
Healthy White and Brown Foods
- Daikon radish
- Brown pears
- White peaches
Bananas: Ripe bananas that will not be consumed within the next few days can be placed in the refrigerator. Unripe bananas should not be placed in the fridge as it will ruin the ripening process.
Cauliflower: Studies have shown that three minutes of boiling draws most of the nutrients from the cauliflower than ten minutes of steaming.
Garlic: To maximize the health benefits of antibacterial compound allicin, consume garlic raw.
Potatoes: Allow potatoes to cool down after boiling as this allows healthy resistant starch to form.
Onions: Avoid storing onions with potatoes as they tend to absorb their moisture causing them to spoil faster.
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Fruit and vegetables fall into five different color categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green, and white/brown. Each color carries its own set of unique disease-fighting chemicals called phytochemicals. It is these phytochemicals that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant color and of course some of their healthy properties.
What’s in a color?
Red fruits and vegetables are colored by a natural plant pigment called lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce the risk of cancer and keep our hearts healthy.
The plant pigment anthocyanin is what gives blue/purple fruits and vegetables their distinctive color. Anthocyanin also has antioxidant properties that protect cells from damage and can help reduce the risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease.
Carotenoids give this group their vibrant color. A well-known carotenoid called Betacarotene is found in sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and carrots. It is converted to vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes. Another carotenoid called lutein is stored in the eye and has been found to prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.
Green vegetables contain a range of phytochemicals including carotenoids, indoles, and saponins, all of which have anti-cancer properties. Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are also excellent sources of folate.
White fruits and vegetables contain a range of health-promoting phytochemicals such as allicin (found in garlic) which is known for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Some members of the white group, such as bananas and potatoes, are also a good source of potassium.