BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - Many people try to fulfill their nutrition needs by taking dietary supplements. But instead of buying supplements, you might want to head to the produce aisle to meet your dietary requirements, said a University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

Fruits and vegetables contain hundreds of phytochemicals that help promote health and prevent disease, said Karen Elliott. These phytochemicals are easily absorbed to provide maximum health benefits. In contrast, common dietary supplements contain large doses of only one or two phytochemicals. Moreover, supplements do not have to undergo testing for safety and effectiveness.

Phytochemicals are natural compounds found in plants. Research suggests that phytochemicals, working with nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and nuts, may reduce the effects of aging and lower the risk of many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, arthritis, cataracts, osteoporosis and urinary tract infections.

Fruits and vegetables that have bright colors - yellow, orange, red, green, blue and purple - generally contain the most phytochemicals and the most nutrients. USDA nutritional guidelines recommend a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Look for these nutrition stars whenever you can:

  • Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and turnips contain vitamin C, beta-carotene, sulforaphane and indoles, which help produce anti-cancer enzymes.
  • Berries and their relatives: Blueberries, strawberries, kiwi and grapes (including raisins, juice and wine) are rich in vitamin C, anthocyanidins, flavonoids and ellagic acid, which help fight heart disease and cancer.
  • Allium family: Onions, garlic, leeks, chives and shallots are sources of organosulfides, which block cancer-causing toxins, and other compounds that thin blood, possibly reducing risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • Red, yellow and orange items: Tomatoes, red grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries, oranges, red pepper, carrots, mango and sweet potatoes are often good sources of antioxidants such as lycopene, vitamin C and carotenes, which fight prostate and stomach cancers.
  • Soy, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease, can complement your diet in a variety of forms, including soymilk, soy flour, soy protein isolate, textured soy protein and fermented soy products (tofu and tempeh).
  • Tea: A cup or two a day may help prevent heart attacks, strokes and cancers. Tea (black and green, hot or iced) seems to have three to four times the antioxidant properties of some fruits and vegetables due to powerful flavonoids.
  • variety of nutrition-related articles from University of Missouri Extension are available online at