When it comes to eating healthy, fall in love with red

Red is the color of the month, with Valentine’s Day and the American Heart Association’s annual Go Red campaign both happening in February. Here’s a taste of the reasons why naturally red foods are a good choice.

When you see red in fruits and vegetables, it’s a sign that these foods contain the compounds lycopene and anthocyanin. These dietary good guys, classified as antioxidants, are associated with promoting heart health, protecting cells from damage, improving memory function, aiding blood sugar control and lowering the risk of certain cancers, including prostate cancer.

Reddish-orange tones in foods such as red peppers and tomatoes are an indication that beta-carotene, another potent antioxidant, is also in the healthy mix. Generally, foods with darker pigmentation are richer in antioxidants. So, a ruby red grapefruit would be higher in antioxidants than a yellow grapefruit.

Anthocyanins are also found in reddish-blue foods such as grapes, red cabbage, radicchio, red onions, and red-skinned and purple potatoes.

It’s better to bite into a strawberry, which is an excellent source of vitamin C (even a dark-chocolate-covered one on Valentine’s Day) than to swallow a vitamin C supplement. Strawberries contain so many more healthy nutrients, some not yet even identified.

While we think about eating raw fruits and vegetables as the ultimate healthy snack, the red-hued phytochemical lycopene is actually better absorbed after it’s cooked. So marinara sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato soup and even ketchup contribute to a heart-healthy diet.

Lean beef is redder in color than heavily marbled cuts with streaks of fat throughout. That means lean beef cuts such as filet mignon, sirloin and flank steaks are lower in saturated fats, total fat and calorie content and therefore a better choice for heart health.

— Carolyn O’Neil, Atlanta Journal-Constitution