Roses Are Red, and So Are Lots of Foods Good for You and Your Valentine

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By Jennifer Huget
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A box of Valentine's Day candy may make your sweetie smile, but it won't contribute to your beloved's health and well-being. And please spare me the line about chocolate's being good for your cardiovascular system: The stuff that comes in heart-shaped boxes isn't likely to be the low-sugar, super-dark, antioxidant-rich variety.

On the other hand, we do know that bright-colored fruits and vegetables deliver a wealth of nutrients. Kim O'Donnel, who writes The Post's "A Mighty Appetite" blog, suggested that this week we enter the red zone: putting together a list of foods hued from pink to rose to auburn to scarlet in honor of this romantic holiday. I'll tell you about their health benefits, and she'll deliver recipes in today's blog on washingtonpost.com.

As I researched these foods' nutritional value, I was overwhelmed by how many benefits they can deliver. As a rule, you can count on red foods to be good for your heart and to offer protection against cancer. Because I couldn't possibly include all their attributes here, I had to be selective; to get a fuller picture, try reading up on such sites as the World's Healthiest Foods (http://www.whfoods.com) http://and NutritionData (http://www.nutritiondata.com).

Beets. These humble root vegetables are enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Though high in sugar (which makes them great both for roasting and for eating raw), they're low in calories. In addition to reducing inflammation, a contributing factor in heart disease, they're excellent sources of folate, which protects against such birth defects as spina bifida, and are thought to be especially powerful in fighting colon cancer. Caution: Eating lots of beets can (harmlessly) color your urine pink or red.

Red bell peppers. My favorite vegetable has nearly three times the daily value of Vitamin C and tons of antioxidants to fight cancer-causing free radicals. It's also rich in Vitamin A, which is thought to protect against lung cancer and promote eye health, and is one of the handful of food sources of lycopene, which protects against such cancers as prostate and pancreatic.

Tuna. A high-quality protein, tuna is full of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and promote cardiovascular health. Fatty fish such as tuna help regulate cholesterol levels, blood pressure and even heart rhythms, thus helping to ward off heart attacks. The canned stuff is just fine, but fresh tuna is luxurious.

Red quinoa. It looks and tastes like a nutty grain, but quinoa, red or otherwise, is actually a seed. It's a surprisingly sound source of protein, making it a staple for vegetarians and vegans. In addition to potassium, it contains manganese and magnesium, both of which may help mitigate migraines.

Radishes. Though common red radishes are full of Vitamin C, sulphur, iron and iodine, here's one instance where red's not best. The pale-white daikon variety has even more C, plus potassium, magnesium and folate.

Radicchio. This low-calorie, highly flavored leaf vegetable makes a colorful addition to salads. It has lots of vitamins B6, C, E and K, plus folate and potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.

Watermelon. Like red peppers, watermelon is a rare source of lycopene, plus vitamins C and A, both powerful antioxidants. Because it's mostly water yet very sweet, it's a dieter's dream: You can eat a lot, sate your sweet tooth and feel very full without consuming many calories. The redder and riper the melon, the more nutrients.

Raspberries. These delicate berries are good sources of Vitamin C and fiber. When they're not in season locally, buy them frozen for no loss in nutritional value.

Cherries. Another sweet source of Vitamin C and fiber.


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