In recent studies red tart cherries were shown to provide similar pain relief to aspirin thanks to anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that may reduce inflammation and pain associated with arthritis and gout. Anthocyanins give cherries their vibrant color, and they are a class of phytonutrients called flavonoids that appear to provide a wide variety of health benefits. Cherries are also rich in melatonin, a hormone that enhances sleep and may help with insomnia and jet lag.
Pomegranates and pomegranate juice are also high in phytonutrients including flavonoids and tannins, beneficial antioxidants that may improve heart health by potentially lowering cholesterol. Pomegranate also is a good source of folate, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
Don't have much of a sweet tooth? Go for savory dishes made with tomatoes, red peppers, beets or other red veggies. The bright red colors in these vegetables come from compounds called carotenoids. Recent studies show that lycopene, a type of carotenoid found in tomatoes, may protect against cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer. By the way, processed tomato products like pasta sauce and ketchup provide more lycopene than fresh tomatoes because food processing changes the structure of lycopene and makes it more effective. Red bell peppers are also a source of lycopene, and are among the most nutrient-rich foods containing more than double the recommended daily dose of vitamin C.
Another tasty red vegetable that's both sweet and nutritious is roasted beets. High in fiber and low in calories, beets add a pop of color to your favorite entrees and desserts. Besides being linked to heart disease prevention, cooked beets have been shown to improve running performance in athletes. Researchers at St. Louis University found that sodium nitrite from beets is quickly converted into nitric oxide that in turn dilates the blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach the muscles.
Try this recipe: If you don't want to serve roasted beets for breakfast, try this berry sauced French toast.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.