Why You Should Eat Brightly Colored Fruits and Vegetables

family picking blueberries rich in polyphenolsYou know how those deep red beets sliced in half to show off the insides, those taut blueberries, those purple and violet mottled, oddly-shaped heirloom tomatoes lightly dusted with soil, and those glistening blackberries sitting in your periphery pop out and draw your gaze as you make your way through the farmers’ market? That’s not just clever product placement. It’s actually because of the pretty colors. This is your body telling you, these are packed with polyphenols like anthocyanins, flavanoids, carotenoids, and betalains. Bring these home for your family.  

Mother nature isn’t just helping you and your family stay healthy. These colors are also helping the plants reproduce. Mother nature is a masterful visual merchandiser who comes up with all these lovely colors so that animals want to eat these plants. But wait – how does color help plants reproduce?

Simple. Plants tend to be stationary. They are, quite literally, rooted in place. A tomato plant can’t walk, can’t kneel and lovingly place its firstborn into a shallow womb dug into the soft, fertile earth. That would be awesome to see, but it’s not gonna happen. What does happen is that colorful plants catch the eye of hungry organisms who eat the fruit, swallow the seed, and poop it out someplace else, thus giving it a chance to take hold, germinate, and develop into a full-blown adult plant. Or, an animal will eat the fruit and toss the pit aside – same result.

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In order to disseminate their progeny across the land, many plants must therefore manufacture pigments – colorful compounds that draw the eye and signal “food source” to mobile, hungry organisms. Being mobile, hungry organisms ourselves, we are also attracted to colorful fruits and vegetables.

And for good reason. See, mother nature is also thrifty. It’s rare that she manufactures a compound with only one use – she likes her creations to multitask – and plant pigments are no different.

What Are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are plant pigments (colors) that offer strong antioxidants and other health benefits when you eat them. Some examples of polyphenols that I’ll cover here include:

  • Anthocyanins
  • Carotenoids
  • Betalains

Polyphenols serve multiple roles in plants in addition to attracting animals, such as protecting it from UV damage, dampening the effects of excess light, enabling photosynthesis, and even acting as endogenous antioxidants (plants can’t really sip red wine and pop supplements, after all). Luckily, it appears that we can leverage many of these pigments for our own gain by eating brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

Which is why both Terry Wahls and I recommend eating a wide variety of them. There are hundreds of different bioactive plant pigments, each with unique effects. Rather than isolate just one or two, by eating a variety of colorful plants we ensure consumption of a wide range of potentially health-promoting plant pigments.

I could end this post now with the basic advice to “eat colorful foods and lots of them.” This would cut down on reading time, ingratiate myself to vegan and vegetarian readers, and still manage to convey an effective, actionable message. But alas, I know you guys like the gritty details. It’s not enough (for most of you) to read someone tell you that eating blueberries and purple sweet potatoes is healthy.

Sometimes you want to vividly imagine those anthocyanins sliding down your gullet, preventing the oxidation of omega-3 fatty acids in your gut,1 and interacting with your body at the cellular level to produce beneficial antioxidant or hormetic effects. Sometimes you want to know what you’re putting inside your body on a deeper level. If that’s you, keep on reading. If it’s not, just go out, eat some colorful produce, and you’ll be fine.

There are literally thousands of polyphenols out there, so for simplicity, I’m breaking them up into categories.

Anthocyanins and Other Flavonoids

Anthocyanins are flavonoids, the most common type of polyphenol. Pretty much any fruit, vegetable, or flower with a significant amount of purple or blue gets that color from anthocyanins. Even some reds can be anthocyanin-based. The deeper the color, the more anthocyanins.

We’re talking:


  • Blueberries – Anthocyanin-rich blueberry juice improved cognitive function and memory in aging adult humans.2
  • Raspberries (black and red) – Raspberry juice shows anti-atherosclerotic effects in hyperlipidemic rodents,3 and although human studies are lacking,4 there is a strong basis for considering them a healthful food.
  • Blackberries – Perhaps my favorite berry, blackberries are rich in flavonoid pigments with evidence of protection against neurological degeneration and bone loss.5
  • Purple sweet potatoes – Tons of references in my sweet potato post. Same goes for regular purple potatoes.
  • Eggplants – Nasunin, a potent eggplant anthocyanin that is strongly absorbed in the GI tract,6 displays antioxidant effects.7 Make sure to eat the peel, though.
  • Cherries – Although (again) human studies are lacking, the considerable anthocyanin content of cherries8 suggests that their efficacy in animal models may well carry over to us.9 10
  • Cranberries – Cranberry juice, whose anthocyanins are bioavailable in humans after drinking,11 improved cardiovascular disease measures in heart patients.12
  • Purple tomatoes – In addition to carotenoids (more on those below), purple tomatoes also contain significant levels of anthocyanins.13
  • Purple carrots – Same goes for purple carrots.

There are even vegetables that have feet (roots?) both in the colorful camp and the sulfur-rich or leafy-green camps. Like:

  • Red leaf lettuce – Leafy green and colorful.
  • Radicchio – Leafy green and colorful.
  • Red cabbage – Sulfur-rich and colorful (with 36 different anthocyanins).14
  • Purple cauliflower – Sulfur-rich and colorful.
  • Purple kale – Leafy green, sulfur-rich, and colorful.

I could go on, but I won’t. The point is that any plant with these colors is going to contain these compounds, because these compounds literally are the colors. That means I’ve missed the vast majority of anthocyanin sources, but it also means that you’ll have an easy time finding them out there in the world. Go for blues, reds, and purples.

Oh, yeah. There are a couple other relevant flavonoids. Anthocyanins get the most press, but there are other foods with potentially beneficial health effects due to flavonoid content.

Turmeric – Contains curcumin, which gives the spice its distinctive, persistent yellow color. I’ve written an entire piece on the health benefits of turmeric, and curcumin is responsible for the lion’s share of them.

Apples and onions – A light yellow pigment, quercetin is found in apples and onions (except for white onions). Red and yellow onions are high in quercetin, while most of the quercetin in apples is stored in the skin.


Carotenoids are pigments that provide the orange, yellow, and red colors found in foods like carrots (get it?), sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, bell peppers, squash, watermelon and tomatoes.

Examples of carotenoids that your body partially converts into retinol, the active form of vitamin A, include:

  • Beta-carotene
  • Alpha-carotene
  • Beta-cryptoxanthin
  • Gamma-carotene
  • Beta-zeacarotene,

You’ve also got lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin, which are valuable to your body for other reasons, but cannot be converted to vitamin A.

Don’t rely on carotenoids to fulfill your vitamin A requirements. Liver and egg yolks are much better, more reliable sources. Besides, beta-carotene supplementation doesn’t seem to work very well. In several studies, the supplement form of beta-carotene has appeared to increase the risk of lung15 and prostate cancer, and a 2007 review found that beta-carotene supplements were associated with an increase in general mortality.16 This isn’t the same thing as taking in alpha-carotene, the form you find in fruits and vegetables.

Get carotenes through orange vegetables and fruits, like squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, and bell peppers.

The other carotenoids – the ones that don’t convert to vitamin A, like lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin – appear to be helpful. Both lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the retinas of our eyes, where they seem to play major roles. The more lutein and zeaxanthin you eat, the more it accumulates in your retina17 (although this is most pronounced in patients with low baseline pigment levels).18 Low dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with cataracts.19

Get lutein and zeaxanthin through spinach, kale (what doesn’t kale have?), dandelion greens, chard, collards, romaine lettuce, paprika, and turnip greens.


Lycopene does some cool stuff, too. It reduces lipid peroxidation20 in people with heart disease, as well as protects the skin against UV-related damage from the sun. There’s also a lot of research into the effect of lycopene intake on cancer.21

The best sources of lycopene are cooked tomato products, like tomato paste22 or sauce, especially cooked with fat23 (but not sunflower oil24), but lower levels can be attained through raw tomatoes, pink grapefruit, pink guava, and watermelon. The absolute best source, however, is gac, a Vietnamese fruit that beats tomatoes by 70-fold. It also contains high levels of other carotenoids, all of which are bound by long chain fats, making them even more bioavailable. Anyone every try gac?


Although betalain pigments are described as “deep red” and “purple” and sound similar to the anthocyanin family, they are not the same. They look different (just compare a beet to a strawberry – not quite the same). In fact, betalains and anthocyanins have never been found in the same plant; they appear to be mutually exclusive.25 Besides the beet (where “betalain” gets its name), rhubarb, and the stems of chard, there aren’t very many sources of readily edible betalains. I suppose you could throw together a floral salad of bougainvillea, amaranth, and purple cacti, but for the most part, you’re going to get your betalains from beets.

All beets contain all betalains, just in different ratios. In purple or red beets, betacyanins predominate. In yellow beets, betaxanthins predominate.

Potential benefits of betalains include:

  • Inhibition of lipid peroxidation.26
  • A beet extract rich in betacyanins showed cytotoxic effects on human prostate and breast cancer lines.27
  • Betacyanins from red beets protected gamma-irradiated mice.28

Well, I hope that’s enough to convince you to include more color in your diet. As you can see, not all of the benefits of plant pigments are “proven,” but they’re probably all quite safe in the amounts you’ll find in foods. So go ahead and eat up a wide variety. If they do turn out to be helpful, you’ll have hedged your bet quite nicely.

With all that said, what are your favorite brightly colored edible plants? How do you like to get your anthocyanins, carotenoids, and betalains (well, I bet I can guess how you get that last one)?

Let me know in the comment section!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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88 thoughts on “Why You Should Eat Brightly Colored Fruits and Vegetables”

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  1. And don’t forget to get enough iodine and selenium to help your body cope with the toxic goitrogens in many of these vegetables! Lots of seafood and seaweed…

    Chris Kresser and Chris Masterjohn just did a terrific podcast on this very topic…

    1. Good reminder. One of my favorite things is red cabbage sauerkraut with fresh dill, fresh ginger and seaweed. I love it!

      1. That sounds good. Is there a specific recipe, or do I just make it up out of my head?

        1. I would shred the cabbage, toss it with sea salt, let it ferment in a nonmetallic container for 2 weeks, then i would add the condiments,

          hope you like it

      2. wow….now that sounds so yummy!!!!
        what kind of seaweed do you use???

    2. Considering, that saturated fat has the opposite effect there shouldnt be too much of a problem for the primal crowd here.

  2. Wonderful post! This is a great resource!

    After watching Dr. Wahls talk, I have made a concerted effort to get more brightly colored veggies in my fridge. And you know what I realized? The colors are just astounding, beautiful and exciting to look at, but whats amazing is that they are REAL FOODS. Crappy processed foods have to dump loads of chemicals into their products to look half as enticing, and so many times the colorful photography you see on the box or menu is a far, sad cry from the wilty, brown mess you actually get.

    1. After watching that video I too made a concerted effort to increase my colors and my greens and it really does make your fridge loook great ! I had to hold back from trying to show it off when I had people over for dinner the other night.

      1. It makes me want to expand the amount of colors in my diet too. For the most part, the varying colors of bell peppers make up the large portion of my veggie color spectrum. Time to branch out!

  3. This is a very interesting and extensive list and a good source of information on the subject. All the more reason to add a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to our diets. We have obviously adapted to and benefit from eating these compounds. Besides they taste great too!

  4. I love beets. I’ve discovered that red cabbage is a great cabbage to give a picky child if it is shredded and served as the base for a salad, because it is almost sweet–not very cabbage-y! My daughter and I are each having at least a 1/4 c. daily of blueberries at each breakfast with our eggs and lightly-steamed broccoli.

    What cTo said–colorful foods make your fridge and plate exciting and beautiful! Our table this year compared to last year is like when Dorothy stepped out of her sepia-toned farmhouse out into Oz. Primal is my new home, though, and there’s no place like it!

  5. Dr Wahl’s talk is amazing. It should be front page news! A cure for MS!

    Does anyone know whether there is a clinical trial looking at the effects of this diet on MS? (i.e. we should be aiming for a sample size of larger than one) Is there one planned?

    Does anyone know whether there have been any similar effects reported for other auto-immune demyelinating conditions (search for e.g. CIPD: Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy)?


    1. Dr. Wahls is currently conducting clinical trials on the entire “Wahls Protocol (TM)” – part of which is diet. You can find info about the trials on her website.

      Its not advisable to speak in terms of a Wahls “cure” for MS – although that would of course be fantastic! Even if ever only N=1 sees this improvement, its great! At this point, all that can be said with any confidence is what Mark said here: “coincided with a regression in her rapidly-progressing MS”.

      The Wahls Protocol (TM) consists of more than diet. Improved nutritional status is probably a factor in her improvement. But, she also undertook a series of therapies at the same time, such as electro-neuromuscular stimulation.

      The primary gain could conceivably be from providing stimulation under the condition of a high quality matrix of ambient neuro-muscular nutrients. Its possible that neither factor alone would get the same result.

    2. Diet is not a cure for MS, I wish it were though! I have had MS for four years. Followed Mark’s primal diet plus raw dairy for two years with very minimal impact on my disease progression. Have played around with various exclusions (dairy, nightshades etc) within the diet and again, I still end up with relapses every couple of months and devastating migraines about every week.

      Lots of my MS friends are also primal to varying degrees and only one has seen a real improvement in her symptoms, but she transitioned from a SAD with lots of pizza/takeout and it may just be her weight loss/overall increase in health that is making the difference. My diet was already real foods, real fats, I just began excluding grains and the little bit of sugar I was eating.

      The only thing that has definitely slowed the progression is the “last line of defense” drug. I know lots of folks on here are not pro-chemical, but without it I’d be in a wheelchair within a few years. Instead, I’m able to bike to work every day (albeit slowly) and lift heavy(ish) things

      I feel better overall on the diet though, especially since it helped me discover that I also had celiac. I truly believe that this diet will affect my overall life expectancy and keep me stronger much longer, but it’s not a cure-all…

      1. BTW As for your question!!! about studies on diet & MS, yes, but they are just beginning and the results will not be available for 5-10 yrs.

        I started reading the China Study about a year ago because my father was a huge fan and asked me to read it. I stopped reading when I got the part about MS because Campbell says that the people who followed a vegan diet were cured and the people who didn’t “died of MS” Unless you fall down the stairs, you don’t die of MS. It’s a chronic illness, but has almost zero impact on life expectancy. I pointed that out to my dad (who also has MS and whose brother, sister, father, uncle, aunt, etc going back generations ALSO have MS)and said I was done. he agreed it was stupid, but still crows about how he had spaghetti with tomato sauce for dinner (it’s VEGAN! yay!!!!) argh.

      2. Do you eat plenty of sea vegetables? You may be iodine deficient…

      3. Points taken — I was feeling exhilarated after watching the video, and imagining what a headline writer would make of it. (But as we know, they are not always good role models!)

        I was also thinking how the world would be a different place if the resources that currently go into testing drugs etc went into testing food-based treatments… sigh.

        In any case, the results are promising, and here’s hoping that the proper trials (in combination with whatever other treatments are useful) bear fruit for all those suffering from these conditions.

        1. Yes, but it would kill the processed food industry and there is no profit in real foods. (That is rate of return on investment is less than can be made from investments of the same risk.)

  6. Question: if nature gives bright, vivid color to animals that are warnings of harm (yellow toads, black/red snakes, blue fish, etc.) and not to approach, why is food so different?

    I have a hunch that if you were to lock yourself away for a few days to do nothing but find non-brightly-colored foods that do the same things you listed in your article as reasons to eat them, you’d be surprised. I think maybe anthocyanins may be the only exception, since there are few blue foods around. Look at say…cauliflower–who knew (besides Paleos) that they contain lots of Omega-3? Until I learned that, cauliflower was the LAST place I looked for Omega-3! You’d think a “white food” was just as bad for you as grains and white potatoes.

    “I wonder what else they contain that will help me shorten the shopping list for nutrients? I’ll go look.”

    It’s like that for other foods, too–unless you look them up, you never know how much “rainbow-shortening” you can do yet remain at the same level (or even higher) of nutrients than before. You may have to eat more quantity of said foods, yes, but at least consumers aren’t bombarded with choice overload when it comes to shopping for food.

    I personally look to Primal Toad on this one, with his Survival Foods series. He got it down to 2 foods last I saw, but even his Emergency Foods list manages to whittle down all the foods available to us to just 10 (or was it 7?), yet still maintains nutrient quality and variety.

    So I ask again: aside from the color thing (which I still question), is it necessary to get all your nutrients from a wide variety of foods (especially when said foods aren’t native to your locale) in limited quantity, when you can achieve much the same thing with fewer, duller-colored foods (and maybe spices) closer to home, and more of them–especially in light that most of the foods you list are fruits, and loaded with fructose?

    1. Really great question (s)! Lots to think about.

      I’ve seen Primal Toad’s smoothie blog – but didn’t realize that he had done this survival food series. Will check it out asap.

      I also tend to eat food that is both local and in season. Not exclusively, but its the basic trend in my diet. Cool foods more in the summer, warm foods more in the winter.

      One thought about the local thing, when a person is a nomad the local food can be varied. In fact, nomads tend to follow the food supply by season or by herd/flock.

    2. There are varying degrees of “brightly colored”. Yes, the stuff we want to eat has many beautiful, bright colors. However the things that are poison and is warning us of that are more than just bright. They are vivid, in-your-face bright and typically red, yellow, orange. There is a difference in the red of a ripe strawberry vs the red of a holly berry. (yes, some safe berries do mimic the colors of poisonous ones – better safe than sorry there.) Time of year is also a helpful indicator. Spring and summer berries are generally safe, fall and winter berries less so.

  7. Oooh interesting. I hardly need more of a reason to gobble down sweet potatoes but it’s always nice that science is on the same side as my belly 🙂

    Now I just have to wrap my head (and tastebuds) around beets. So far, I’ve made beet kvass and juiced the monsters but I still fear them.

    1. Beets are great if you have blood pressure problems as the relax the blood vessels. They also increase the blood flow to the brain and sensitive parts of the body.

  8. My current favorite is to shred fresh beets with a carrot or two. Toss with oil of choice, lime juice and sea salt. Surprisingly delicious! Try it!

    1. I, for one, am COMPLETELY going to try your recipe! I always have most of these on hand.

    2. Yes! I love these types of shredded salads. Carrot and apple (if that much carb can be tolerated) is also great. Lemon or lime juice – sometimes honey and/or dried fruit – but no oil, has been my standard approach. But, I can see how oil would be great not only by taste/texture – but to balance the carbs.

    3. Oh….YUMMY…that sounds so good!
      I LOVE beets, raw,roasted, hot,cold!! And paired with our local goat cheese is divine!!!
      AND I Just LOVE the name CrunchyPickle!!!! I get a tickle in my tummy evertime I stumble across your posts!!

  9. Excellent summary. My only issue is quantity. I’m not convinced that more is more. I’m more with Kurt Harris’ Archevore post William Munny Eats His Vegetables.

  10. If broccoli wanted me to “disseminate its progeny,” it would taste like chocolate! lol

  11. I like to surround a big hunk of roast beef on a platter with brightly colored vegetables, makes for a nice presentation, then when we are done with the roast beef we toss the vegetables in the compost bin

  12. Mark,

    Thank you for all your thoughtful work. I’ll be “digesting” this information for quite awhile.

    I believe in the value of anti-oxidants, like lutein zeaxanthin, especially for eye health.

    About 20 years ago my opthamologist noticed the tiniest drusen in my retina – but not near the macula. He over-reacted (IMO) to the possible threat of macular degeneration and wanted me to have a computerized test for central vision, among other tests. I think he just wanted to play with some high tech toys. Whatever.

    Being a perennially curious person with a healthy regard for baseline measurements and high tech toys, I agreed. He was surprised that my read-out was so perfect that it looked “text book”. I wasn’t, because I knew my eyes and what they could do.

    Anyway, as a precaution I then researched nutritional support for macular degeneration and changed my diet and supplements accordingly. I also make extra sure to protect my eyes from bright sunlight, another link to macular degeneration.

    As of last year, the tiny drusen remain unchanged (this is a good thing). According to my new opthamologist, looking at my retinas is like looking at those of someone pushing 40 not pushing 60. And, I still have excellent eyesight with no age-related changes to the lens visible. My impression in general is that the nutritional support helped to slow aging, at least. May have halted/slowed the (usual) progression of macular degeneration as well.

  13. I discovered wild black raspberries (called “black tops”) near my building on campus. People look at me so strangely as I pick them and eat them right there. They are tart, small but so good.

    Another of my favourite free fruits is mulberries. Mmmm. They stain really badly but so worth it.

  14. I absolutely love beets, cabbage, and sweet potatoes. Tonight’s side will be rosemary roasted beets and carrots, and possibly some sauteed spinach as well.

    The colors are to die for–who wants those bland artificial colorings?

  15. Hi Mark,

    One thing has been bothering me for a while, and I hope you can help make it clearer.

    Many of these experts who examine traditional hunter-gatherer diets make impressive claims about micro-nutrient content, like Terry Wahls’ 2-10 X RDA, but when I enter even the most generous interpretations of their sample diets into nutritiondata I get much less.

    Here’s an example:

    Note that this is just the plant part, without the meat&fish. I was very generous here, assuming when she talks about cups of kale/collard/pak-choi/leeks etc she means cooked cups, which contain 4-5 times more plant matter than raw cups; I also added a bit more than her 9 cups total.

    Still, it seems that for vitamin B, sulfur, and various minerals (her focus in this talk) her claims of 2-10X are highly exaggerated. In fact, only 5 totals are above the RDA, and only 3 are above 2X. If I replace the carrots and bell peppers with any other colorful plants the vitamin C and A content will also plummet, making the 2-10X claim true only with regards to vitamin K1…

    Am I missing something?

    Thanks, Alex.

  16. As a side dish to my daily main meal which is highly spiced, I always have a bowl of 200ml of full fat natural greek yoghurt. In the yoghurt I mix in 2 or 3 cloves of raw garlic, that have been crushed and chopped and left exposed to the air for 15 minutes to allow the unique enzymes to activate. Also a plum sized finely chopped fresh beet. (pink result)
    The mix is a tasty cooling contrast to the black pepper, chillies (scotch bonnet), ginger and turmeric I try to include daily.
    I’ve been doing this for more than 4 years.

  17. My Pakistani mulberry trees are budding! I love those mulberries. I keep bags of frozen berries in the freezer to throw into smoothies. Cranberries included. They’re very tart but you can make your own juice by blending a few of these with mineral water and sweetener of your choice.

    Don’t forget colorful peppers. You can easily make soup from roasted peppers, and tomato soup is too simple. When in season, the local farmers market carries purple carrots too.

    1. I am from Pakistan and grew up surrounded by mulberry trees! They were everywhere, and as school children, we would always be on the look out for mulberries to enjoy. They are so delicious, fresh or dried. It’s good to known that Pakistani mulberry trees can thrive here.

  18. Beets! I love beets, and I make wonderful beet and walnut salad, and, of course, borcht, and I can eat it just boiled up or raw. one thing I miss is Russian summer cold soup made with beet juice, bortchevnik. I don’t have a juicer, lol.

  19. I love fruits and vegetables and I have been either vegan or vegeterian all my life before I turned primal..Any idea why I have gained weight ever since?? Anyone else with the same issue?? HELP!! Please!!

    1. maybe you are gaining muscle…your body may be re-adjusting after years of vegetarian deprevation ( i was veg, too, and now i am a recovering veg!)

      1. Have you gained weight too? I don’t know if it’s fat or muscle but whatever it is it’s making me weigh more and look fatter! 🙁

    2. Could it be that you’re finally developing muscle as you get healthy? Most vegan/vegetarians, if they aren’t fat, bear a strong resemblance to long-term heroin junkies, or late-stage AIDS patients. Forget about the scale and the mirror for a moment and ask yourself how you feel.

      1. Not so pleasant is how I feel being heavier! makes it harder to workout even! Anyone who has experienced the same, ie getting heavier after turning Primal, please advice!!

  20. This advice (to eat colorful veggies) needs a big caveat – Watch out for nightshades!! After having detemined that I need to eat more colorful veggies, I began to eat red, orange and yellow bell peppers everyday – I didn’t particularly enjoy them, but what the heck if it keeps me healty and grok-like… For 6 months I did this and during that time my knees, hips and elbows began to hurt more an more. Because I was working out running, push ups, pull ups, etc – I assumed it was my workouts -Wrong! I read that the nightshades can cause arthritis-like symptoms – sure enough, when I cut out the peppers all my pain went away within a few days. Apparently the nightshade group is from the Americas, and we evolved in Africa and europe – so our bodies may not tolerate these foreign plants so well – despite their colorfulness…

    1. Maybe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people with certain Native American ancestry might tolerate those plants better, since those folks were the ones to first cultivate nightshades.

  21. Radishes in the spring are delicioso! Yum…mmy
    Also, beets are great and cauliflower and cabbage. So much great food to choose from available in all the seasons.

  22. “A tomato plant can’t walk, can’t kneel and lovingly place its firstborn into a shallow womb dug into the soft, fertile earth. That would be awesome to see, but it’s not gonna happen.” I have had people tell me they have seen this! Then again those were the same people who thought the walls were melting so they were going to go catch the unicorn outside so I don’t know how much they can be trusted…

    1. I don’t think it’d be “awesome” to see at all. I would be terrified if I saw our tomato plants outside walking around and kneeling! 😀

  23. Great article! I’ve long known about the value of “eating your colors,” but have never stopped to think about WHY these nutritious foods are colored as they are. Fascinating stuff for a guy like me who has beets, blueberries, tomatoes, greens, cruciferous veggies, herbs, fruit trees and more growing in his back yard! I’m a total geek for stuff like this, thanks!

  24. I’m not a beet person, but this post made me want to give them another try. Maybe I can find a way to disguise the “beet-ness.”

    My simple rule is this–the more color in my fruit and veggies bowl, the better. I love mixing up the veggies in my eggs–spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, all colors of pepper, etc. One time I tried carrots and that was a bit gross.

  25. Thanks for the great resource! I just started getting into beets more recently, and this re-assured how good they are.
    Some other great picks my wife and I LOVE are kale and collard greens. I originally got into them when I learned that the indole-3-carbinol in them helps support healthy testosterone levels. We sautee a little turkey bacon 1st, and then add the greens.
    Thanks again for your post, and letting me share as well 🙂

  26. Mark,

    I have become very fond of carrots over the years. They are cheap, store easily, are very mobile for a grab and go snack, and seem to be pretty nutritious. They fit nicely into this post about colorful foods. I’ve had a few people tell me recently that I have an orange skin tone and have even been told I might have jaundice because of my skin color. I attribute this to the rather large quantities of raw carrots I consume. Is there anything wrong with this? Is there such a thing as eating too much of one vegetable?

  27. I went raw food (fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc) a long time back and it killed my digestive system. TOO MUCH FIBER.

    I stopped “raw” a few years back and have been primal for about a year. I’m slowly getting back to normal.

    IMO the amount of fiber this lady proposes is completely OTT. I appreciate how well she’s done with her complaint – but for a slim person look at the size of her midsection. That’s excess fiber killing her digestive system (i.e. keeping her full of impacted s**t)… and when you get to that stage your digestive system may never fully recover even when cutting fiber back down to “normal” which by British Standards is 18g/day (which is probably way too much from a truly primal viewpoint).

    That’s just my 2 cents (and obviously my opinion).

  28. Purple carrots? Purple cauliflower? How is posible that I have been eating food for 42 years, and never seen nor heard of these purple veggies? I will spend hour upon hours googling these items this evening. Thanks…I think?

    1. My local supermarket had purple carrots a few months ago but has never stocked them again – no idea what the point of that was but certainly gave an interesting colour to my batch of bone broth/stock!

    1. I know a man who turned orange from massive quantities of carrot juice.

  29. Honestly, although eating seasonally makes sense nutrition-wise and economically, I revel in the huge variety of produce that is available year-round to those of us with access to even a modest supermarket. I love seafood, meat, eggs, and butter, but I also really enjoy mixing things up with a variety of vegetables and fruits as well, in order to keep my taste buds engaged. There’s something to be said for enjoying your food, even if your goal is to “eat to live, not live to eat.”

  30. I always use colored fruits in my salads. It is really important to know a little more about fruits we eat in order to take advantage of their benefits.

  31. WARNING: TMI incoming!!! But after Mark posted this article I had to share. My husband and I went paleo about last August. I cooked beets for the first time ever a couple months ago. I had never had beets any other way; the only way I had ever seen anyone consume them was on Thanksgiving from a can or something. GROSS. So anyway, I made a big pan of roasted veggies (rutabaga, turnips, and beets) and they turned out BEAUTIFUL since the beets “bleed” and turn everything a rosy red color. So later that day I noticed that my pee was a bronzy orange color. And…here’s the TMI…the #2 gig was beet colored! This continued for 2 days. It was actually quite hilarious. I just find eating super fun colored vegetables exciting. Beets, rainbow chard, heirloom carrots excite me to no end. Cooking them is fun, eating them is yummy, and seeing how they come out is definitely interesting. TMI again. I warned you. Anyway, enjoy your veggies and think of how much fun we’re having over people who ingest the same beige-brown fast food every day.

    1. LOL!! I’d forgotten about red #2 after eating beets! Thanks for reminding me. I’ve never noticed the #1, so I’ll go eat some beets and watch.

      I wonder if other colorful foods have a similar effect – I’ve never noticed anything blue after eating berries, nor orange after carrots. I’ll start paying attention.

  32. Just wanted to comment that though Dr. Wahl’s video appears to be oriented in Paleo/Primal eating, her book is not so much. She says that she tried Paleo a few years back but didn’t continue (no explanation). Her recipes include grains, as do some of the resources she links to from her website. She seems to give as much credit to neuromuscular stimulation as to diet to explain her recovery.

    Regardless, hers is a remarkable achievement.

  33. An excellent post. I laughed hard at “my post about sweet potatoes, not my sweet post about potatoes”. That was a good one! 🙂

  34. Mark:

    Can’t thank you enough for exposing my hub and I to Dr Wahls. MDA and Dr Wahls are an effective combo!

    Your first Wahls post cemented the primal logic for my husband and I. We have been working toward primal for some time now (usually about 70-30). After watching Dr Wahls’ video on youtube.com, I was able to approach the lifestyle changes we wanted to make from a different perspective – from that of the nutrition our bodies require as opposed to what we would be giving up.

    Needless to say, we have happily revamped our nutrition and have found a joy (ok, almost obsession) with planning our meals based on our requirements – and we have been able to explore the frequently forgotten fish group (Mackerel, Salmon, Trout, etc) with real excitement.

    My hub is eating (shhhh) kale and beets which I never thought would happen. We create big-ass salads daily and work our requirements in for the day around that meal. And I make my own ghee with pastured butter. Everything should be cooked in ghee!

    We get enough veggies (3 cups greens, sulfurs and colors is really easier than it sounds), protein and Omega 3s… the healthy fats come so naturally its silly.

    And that’s just the food… Hopefully we will have an awesome story to tell and pics to show.

    Thanks so much for being the inspiration for our future!!

  35. i cured my MS with simple paleo and not much fuss about sulfur, antocyanides or carotenoids etc… just simple autoimmuneprotocol type paleo. that was more than 10 years ago now. nice to learn new stuff but this is from experience : KISS. no need to make things more complicated. plus what jumped out at me was recommending eggplant and tomatoes, both of which are known to aggravate MS…

  36. I think is very valuable information, and I generally prefer brightly colored foods for similar reasons. I have however recently learned that the isoflavones are actually phytoestrogens, and I am concerned about excessive estrogen (which is becoming an epidemiological problem). Does anyone have any insight here? Could people with excess estrogen be doing more harm than good by deliberately increasing isoflavone intake? Is there a way to distinguish between beneficial and nonbeneficial isoflavones?

  37. Purple sweet potatoes – Tons of references in my sweet potato post (that’s my post about sweet potatoes, not my sweet post about potatoes). Same goes for regular purple potatoes.


    Purple carrots – Same goes for purple carrots.

    That’s wrong, because these things aren’t coloured to promote display and encourage spreading seed. They are energy storage systems we are taking advantage of, and they grow where they can’t be seen. Their colour is a side effect of chemicals that are valuable for energy storage systems, i.e. natural pesticides. That is why potato peel is a mild digestive irritant just like the above ground parts of the potato plant, all the more toxic the more coloured it is. You should never eat potato peel, particularly if it is at all green, as it has evolved to be poisonous, not healthy. With carrots, breeders had to go to a lot of trouble to minimise the bitterness caused by the toxins before they were edible.

    It can get even worse. Parts of the rhubarb plant contain oxalic acid. Onions release dilute sulphuric acid when they are damaged, which is why your eyes water when you peel them, and it takes cooking to clear that from the food. “Raw” peanuts and cashews have actually had some cooking to be safe to eat (they also grow underground and aren’t set up to gain by being eaten). And cassava just isn’t safe to eat at all without considerable processing and cooking to get rid of its toxin – cyanide.

    The only reason these things don’t make us sicker is that we don’t have quite the same metabolism as their target pests like insect grubs and nematode worms, and the pesticides aren’t often as broadly effective as cyanide. But we are not the plants’ friends in this business, nor are they ours. For non-fruits and even some fruits like peanuts, we have to bypass these defences or live with them. Even those fruits which did co-evolve for being eaten often have a laxative effect to further the plants’ agenda where it differs from ours. Sometimes, colour is a display warning not to eat the plant.

  38. Interesting! It makes we want to grab some colorful vegetables and fruits. I love raspberries and blueberries and now I have another good reason to eat lots of them. Bell peppers are also awesome, but I usually eat only red ones. Time to try different colors!

  39. I used to love tomatoes and peppers.
    Had that is past tense a big problem with water on the right knee and swollen lower legs,
    and general aches.
    Two weeks without nightshades and the swelling is gone completely,my right knee is now the same size as my left,and there is no pain.
    Bad nightshades!!!!!

  40. Just want to share something. I need to submit my blogs to blog sites with so many people reading blogs. That’s what I need most..

  41. “It’s not enough (for most of you) to read someone tell you that eating blueberries and purple sweet potatoes is healthy.”
    It’s usually enough for me. I’ve never been one to count, weigh, and micro-analyze everything I eat. I do find Mark’s in-depth explanations interesting, and it probably does stick to the “flypaper” somewhere in the back of my mind. Mostly I’ve just learned what to eat and what to avoid for good health and maintaining a normal weight (which is actually pretty easy). That said, there’s nothing wrong with boning up on all the reasons if that’s your thing.