With red being the color most closely related to the heart and Valentine's Day — it also is the reason many fruits and veggies are loaded with powerful, healthy antioxidants, such as lycopene and anthocyanins.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and WebMd, the compounds that create the color red in foods do many things, from fight heart disease and prostate cancer, to decrease the risk for stroke and macular degeneration.
Some of these brightly-colored foods that offer the highest levels of antioxidants include the following popular items that are available in every produce aisle.
A good source of folate, which aids in heart health and women in childbearing years. It decreases the risk of certain birth defects. They also are rich in vitamin C.
High in fiber and vitamin C, new areas of research on raspberries shows them playing a part in managing obesity and controlling type 2 diabetes. The diversity of antioxidants, flavonols and anthocyanins in raspberries give these tiny fruit strong disease-fighting properties.
Blood Oranges and Ruby Red Grapefruit
The darker the citrus the higher the levels of antioxidants, such as vitamin C. It also is high in lycopene, anthocyanins, fiber and pectin. Many of these antioxidants are not present in lighter-colored citrus, such as white grapefruit.
Rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanin, cherries have been reported to fight diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and gout. Cherries also are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin A.
Studies have shown this fruit may help reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries and lower blood pressure. Other research hints that pomegranate juice may help manage prostate cancer, diabetes, arthritis and erectile dysfunction.
High in antioxidants and anthocyanins, cranberries have been shown to prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract wall and reduce inflammation in the body.
Processed tomatoes — sauce and paste — are more effective than raw tomatoes at reducing cancer risk. In the raw tomato, the lycopene is bound into the cell walls and fiber. Processing breaks down these cell walls and frees the lycopene to be absorbed by the body. Ounce for ounce, processed tomato products and cooked tomatoes contain two to eight times the available lycopene of raw tomatoes. While processing does diminish the levels of vitamin C in the tomatoes, it elevates the total antioxidant activity, thus ultimately providing an enhanced benefit.
Tomatoes are also a good source of potassium, niacin, vitamin B6 and folate — a great heart-healthy combination of nutrients. Potassium-rich foods play a positive role in cardiovascular health, being especially effective in helping to achieve optimal blood pressure. Niacin is commonly used to lower elevated blood cholesterol levels. The combination of vitamin B6 and folate effectively reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
Red Bell Peppers: An important source for vitamin A, which, in a naturally-occurring source, is good for skin, bones and teeth. Some varieties also have as much vitamin C as citrus. They are high in fiber and because of these properties, linked to increased immunity, improved digestion, lower cholesterol and a decreased risk of colon cancer.
Red Onions: A major source of anthocyanin and the mixture of more than 50 sulfur-containing compounds. The health promoting compounds in onions are separated by cell walls. Slicing an onion ruptures these walls and releases the compounds, which then combine to form a powerful new compound.
To get the most health benefits from an onion, let it sit for five to 10 minutes after cutting and before cooking. Heat will deactivate the compound and you want to give it time to fully develop.
Regular consumption of onions also has been associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. They also contain several anti-inflammatory compounds that contribute to reducing symptoms in rheumatoid and osteo arthritis, asthma and congestion caused by the common cold.
Beets: With an earthy flavor that becomes sweet when cooked, beets are low in calories, high in fiber, folate, vitamins A, K and B. Available in an array of colors that come from betanin, a phytochemical that's thought to bolster immunity.
Red-Skinned Potatoes: Ranked lower on the glycemix index than Russet potatoes; this potato is classified as waxy rather than starchy.
They are high in B6, vitamin C, folate, potassium and fiber. For optimal health benefits, do not peel the potatoes and eat as much of the skin as possible.
Roasted Red Vegetables
1 bunch of beets
3 red potatoes
1 red onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the leaves from the beets and trim off the top and root ends. Using a wet rag, rub the outside of the beets to remove the skin and any fibers. Cut into fourths and place in a large bowl. Leaving the skin on the potatoes, cut into one inch pieces that are similar to the size of the quartered beets. Add the potatoes and sliced onion to the bowl with the beets. Add the remaining ingredients and toss until coated. Spread out in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir to ensure even browning. Cook for another 15 minutes or until the potatoes and beets are cooked through.
Red Bell Pepper Boats with Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo
2 red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, seed and core removed
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons pine nuts
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), minced
1 cup orzo
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
Rub the bell pepper halves with half of the olive oil and place in a baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare orzo according to package directions, drain and set aside. Add remaining olive oil to a sauté pan and add the garlic and pine nuts. Sauté over medium heat until slightly toasted, being careful not to burn. Turn off the heat. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, orzo, spinach and lemon juice. Stir to combine and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Spoon the orzo mixture into the pepper halves. Cover the baking pan with foil and place in the oven for twenty to thirty minutes or until peppers are cooked and soft.
Red Wine Chocolate Cake
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
5 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and ½ cup sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in egg yolks 1 at a time, scraping bowl as necessary. Add chocolate; beat just to combine. In 3 additions, add wine to butter mixture, alternating with flour mixture. In a large bowl, using clean beaters, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 3/4 cup sugar and beat until the whites are firm and glossy.
Using a spatula, gently fold whites into batter just until no white streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top with spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer cake to wire rack; let cool in pan 10 minutes. Run a knife around pan to loosen cake; release from pan. Let cool completely on wire rack.
Note: This cake is pictured with frosting but the original recipe calls for no frosting. The flavor is very rich so it is just as good without the frosting and garnished with some whipped cream and berries.
Recipe from La Cucina Italiana Magazine
Chocolate Raspberry Napoleons
1 box puff pastry, thawed
1 cup raspberry jam
1/4 cup Chambord or cranberry juice
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
1 1/2 cups cream, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1 small carton of raspberries
Garnish, powdered sugar and crushed chocolate cookies
On a lightly floured surface unfold the puff pastry sheets and roll out slightly to remove any creases or seams from the folds. Using a large and small heart-shaped cutter, cut out four large hearts and 12 small hearts. The excess dough can be refrozen and rolled out again for another use. Place the hearts on a lightly greased baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes at 400 degrees or until pastry is puffed and golden. In a saucepan over low heat, combine the jam and the Chambord or juice. Stir until melted and combined. Pour into a separate bowl to cool. In another small saucepan add 1/2 cup of cream and the sugar. Heat on low until sugar is dissolved. Add a tablespoon of the raspberry sauce and stir to combine. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until it is completely melted and combined. Place remaining cream in a mixing bowl and with an electric mixer whip to light peaks. Begin adding the chocolate cream, one spoonful at a time. Continue to add while beating to stiff peaks. To assemble the napoleons split the large hearts, using a serrated knife. Add a dollop of cream and four to five raspberries to the middle. Place on a plate and outline with a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Place the extra raspberries and small pastry hearts on the line of sauce and garnish with powdered sugar and crushed chocolate cookies.