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Health Benefits of Red and Orange Vegetables

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 17, 2020

With their spectrum of vitamins and nutrients, red and orange vegetables can provide people with vigor and vitality. Vegetables in this category are especially high in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and Vitamin K.

Red and orange vegetables include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, winter squash, and various types of red peppers. The nutritional profiles of these vegetables can vary.

Health Benefits

Red and orange vegetables can increase overall wellness and reduce cancer risk. The Healthy People initiative, which seeks to improve the well-being of the American people by 2030, mentions increasing consumption of red and orange vegetables as one of its target goals.

Red and orange vegetables can provide the following health benefits:

Cancer Risk Reduction

Antioxidants that occur naturally in plants can reduce the risk of cancer. Scientists believe that damaged DNA may be the root cause of many cancers, but certain antioxidants can keep free radicals from harming the DNA in cells. The beta-carotene typically found in orange vegetables is one such antioxidant. Lycopene, found in tomatoes, is another.  

Blood Pressure Control

The average American’s sodium intake is too high, while their potassium intake is too low. This imbalance puts them at risk for high blood pressure, which can cause strokes and other complications. One way to increase potassium intake is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Orange foods like sweet potatoes and carrots are high in potassium. So are winter squash like acorn, butternut, and Hubbard.   

Healthy Eyes

Carotenoids are substances that give certain vegetables their red, orange, and yellow colors. Two particular carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are important for eye health. They reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Carrots and red peppers contain these carotenoids. Vitamin A also increases your eyes' ability to function in low-light conditions. Carrots, winter squash, and sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A.   

Healthy Teeth and Gums

Poor dental health can lead to other health problems and diminish quality of life. Red and orange vegetables are very high in vitamin A, which is needed for the health of the salivary glands and mucosal tissues of the mouth. A lack of this vitamin can also cause brittle teeth. Carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin A. Vitamin C is another nutrient needed for dental health, as a deficiency can cause bleeding gums and lead to loosened teeth. Tomatoes and red peppers are high in vitamin C.

Nutrition

Red and orange vegetables are nutritional powerhouses, and all are relatively low in calories. They contain significant amounts of:   

  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Potassium
  • Fiber

Nutrients per Serving

This is the nutritional content of one medium-sized carrot. 

  • Calories: 25
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 5 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 3 grams

Portion Sizes

Many traditional recipes for red and orange vegetables involve added sugars, sodium, and oil. Pumpkin, for example, is commonly baked into pies. Some cooks add brown sugar and butter to sweet potatoes and carrots. Tomato dishes like spaghetti sauce often have a lot of sodium.

The healthiest choice is to choose foods free of additional salt, oil, and sugar, opting for an “SOS-free diet”. Adjusting to foods without these additions gets easier with time, as you learn to enjoy food's natural flavors. If you want to improve your diet gradually, you can consider continuing to use salt, oil, and sugar while being mindful of the amounts.

How to Prepare Red and Orange Vegetables

Luckily, most red and orange vegetables are available year-round in grocery stores across the country. Summer and fall are the harvest time for winter squash, but have a long shelf life, so can usually buy them at any time. Wash red and orange vegetables before eating them. The longer you cook vegetables, the more nutrients are lost. So, try incorporating some fresh red and orange vegetables into your diet.

If you want to cook red and orange vegetables, the simplest methods are the best. You'll retain their nutrients and their low calorie count. Try these healthy and nutritious recipes:  

  • Make colorful spring rolls with carrots, cabbage, peppers, and fresh herbs
  • Make a healthier pancake with pumpkin and ground oats
  • Grill vegetable skewers featuring tomatoes, onions, peppers, and other veggies of your choice  
  • Pair raw carrots with hummus or low-fat yogurt
  • Enjoy gazpacho, the classic cold soup made of tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers 
  • Cook steel-cut oats with grated carrots. Add cinnamon and just a touch of maple syrup 
  • Make a healthier marinara by adding grated carrots and skipping the oil 
  • Make salsa with tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Serve on almost anything 
  • Cut butternut squash into cubes and oven roast. Eat plain or add to a healthy bowl 
  • Try pumpkin soup for a hearty winter warmer
  • Stuff winter squash with a combination of whole grains, vegetables, and spices

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Journal of Cancer Research: "Functional foods and their role in cancer prevention and health promotion: a comprehensive review."

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

General Dentistry: "Nutrition for oral health and oral manifestations of poor nutrition and unhealthy habits."

MedlinePlus: "Vitamin A."

National Institutes of Health: "Potassium."

Nutrients: "Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye Health."

UC Davis Integrative Medicine: "SOS New Meaning for an Old Word."

U.S. Department of Agriculture ChooseMyPlate: "Vegetable Group Food Gallery."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Healthy People 2030."

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