Green beans. Orange carrots. Red tomatoes. How normal. How boring. One of the joys of growing your own veggies is that you can have some fun and mix up the colors. Beans come in yellow and purple as well as green. Carrots can be white, yellow, orange, or purple. Tomatoes come in green (such as Green Zebra), purple, orange, yellow, or even sporting saucy stripes. Even fresh corn on the cob (as opposed to the dried stuff) now comes in fun colors. Why settle for growing what you can easily find at the market, when so many other options are waiting?
One advantage to growing veggies of another color is they may confuse pests. Many insects are programmed to seek out more typical hues, causing them to overlook your purple cabbages or white eggplant. I’m all for anything that discourages munchers such as flea beetles and aphids!
And then there’s the matter of harvesting. It’s downright difficult to find those green zucchinis hiding under matching green leaves. That’s why I grow yellow summer squash—we end up with fewer baseball bats. And as I mentioned last week, I chose yellow pole beans for the same reason, and it’s working.
If you are feeding children, you have even more reason to opt for offbeat colors. While we’re blessed with granddaughters who love most vegetables (with one declaring that her favorite food is broccoli!), I realize that most kids would rather eat just about anything else. However, if you surprise them with “silly veggies,” you might be pleasantly surprised. Our three little kiddos love anything they can call silly, and “wrong-colored” food certainly qualifies.
After attending a “rainbows and unicorns” birthday party, being on the receiving end of many beautiful rainbow drawings, and exclaiming over the rainbows decorating everything from backpacks to sneakers, I have come to realize that rainbows are a Big Deal. That’s why I think Rainbow Chard (left) was made for little kids. Besides, it’s pretty and easy to grow, and it tastes good.
Finally, vegetables are different colors because they contain different nutrients. For example, carotenoids give vegetables their yellow to orange color. One carotenoid is beta carotene, used by our bodies to make vitamin A. The darker orange the carrot, the more beta carotene it has. Yellow cauliflowers also have beta carotene, while white cauliflowers do not. I often choose the variety of squash I grow based on its color, with the goal of maximizing its nutritive value.
Anthocyanins, another plant pigment, account for colors ranging from red to deep purple. Blackberries, eggplant, and red grapes all contain anthocyanins. The health claims for anthocyanins are never-ending, ranging from lowered blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels, to healing ulcers and curing cancer. While possibly true, many of these claims currently have no scientific basis, and much research remains to be done.
All these colorful pigments are considered antioxidants. (There are additional antioxidants which do not affect plant color, such as vitamin C.) Antioxidants are chemicals that neutralize harmful free radicals, and that we think are good for you. Note the less-than-confident language here—recent studies are suggesting that, contrary to what was believed, antioxidants may actually increase the growth of cancer cells. (For more on this, see “Antioxidants May Make Cancer Worse,” published in Scientific American, and “Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention,” on the National Cancer Institute website.)
The problem with analyzing plants according to their nutritional benefits is that there’s a lot of hype mixed in with the facts—and we’re not even sure about the facts. Unfortunately, making unsubstantiated health claims is a terrific way to sell your brand of supplements, and by carefully using vague terms (such as “supports”), the promoters make sure that no laws are broken by their advertising.
Of course, if we started avoiding all controversial foods, we’d have to stop eating. In general, we’re pretty sure that veggies are good for us, no matter what color they are. If growing a rainbow of crops encourages us to eat more of them, let’s have some fun and do it!
Wonderful carrot photo by Jeff King, https://www.flickr.com/photos/gnikrj/537536145