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Eat Yourself Healthy by Eating the Rainbow

Roy G. Biv.  If you have had an art class, the name Roy was very familiar when learning about the order of colors in the rainbow.  Rainbows in the sky are caused by the reflection of sunlight on tiny particles of water in the air.  However, the rainbow on your plate? That takes a bit more work but believe me, it tastes amazing!  Having variety on your plate is a great way to get vitamins and minerals that your body desperately needs. 

Ready to start eating the rainbow? Keep reading for tips, tricks, and lists that will help you get started today!

What is Eating the Rainbow?

The bare bones definition is eating foods that are colorful and try not to have a monotone plate of food.  This means eating leafy greens, fresh fruits, cruciferous vegetables and colorful tubers such as sweet potatoes. 

The reason that more and more health professionals are recommending the rainbow is because eating the rainbow can decrease heart disease, decrease the effects of chronic diseases, as well as boost your body, clear out toxins, and support a balanced body.  Think of it this way, if you eat foods that are high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, your body is nourished and ready to face the day.  Foods like purple cabbage, limes and oranges, eggplants and kale, are all going to be included in the rainbow and are going to be less processed than other foods. 

Why does eating the rainbow decrease health issues you might ask? The nitty gritty science behind it is that fruits and vegetables that have stronger colors generally have more phytonutrients.  Phytonutrients are chemicals that plants have that give them their distinct colors.  While there are over 25,000 different kinds of phytonutrients, the most common ones that you have probably heard of are beta carotene, carotenoids and possibly even resveratrol which is found in red wines.

Dig Into the Rainbow

The following breakdown is going to group fruits and veggies by color, highlight the primary nutrients that your body needs, as well as give you a list to start you off on the right foot.

Snack Super with Fruits and Vegetables such as sweet potatoes

Red

Phytonutrients and Vitamins: contain lycopene and anthocyanins

Fruits and Veggies to Try:

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Kidney beans
  • Pomegranate
  • Raspberries
  • Red onions
  • Red peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon

Brief Benefits:

Foods rich in lycopene have been shown to decrease the chances of cancer and potentially reverse the progression of cancer.  They also can help increase your circulation and decrease inflammation as well.  It can be taken as a supplement however, it is still unknown whether or not synthetic lycopene is as bioavailable as lycopene obtained from cooked or fresh red foods.

Orange and Yellow

Phytonutrients and Vitamins: beta cryptothanxin, beta carotene, hesperidin, lutein, zeaxanthin, curcuminoids, Vitamin A, C, and K.

Fruits and Veggies to Try:

  • Apricot
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Golden Beets
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Mangoes
  • Orange peppers
  • Oranges
  • Papayas
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapples
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Yellow Peppers
  • Yellow summer squash

Brief Benefits:

Generally speaking, most of the items on this list have compounds that contribute to better immune function, better eye health, increased circulation (which is handy of you have cold hands and feet).  Many of these fruits and veggies like sweet potatoes contain beta carotene which the body transforms to Vitamin A, yet another vitamin that is important to cell health and vision.  Two of the biggest eye protectors found in orange and yellow foods are lutein and zeaxanthin: these two compounds build up in your retinas and repair damages from blue lights as well as sun damage or macular diseases.

Green

Phytonutrients and Vitamins: sulforaphane, isocyanate, indoles, lutein, isothiocyanates, isoflavones, Vitamin K, folate, calcium.

Fruits and Veggies to Try:

  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Collard Greens
  • Edamame
  • Green apples
  • Green beans
  • Green cabbage
  • Green grapes
  • Herbs
  • Kale
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Mustard Greens
  • Peas
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip Greens
  • Zucchini

Brief Benefits:

Many dark leafy greens contain sulforaphane, isocyanate and indoles that inhibit cancer causing compounds.  They also can help limit cancer growth, boost your immune system and slow the rate of cognitive decline.  One thing that isn’t listed in the properties for leafy greens or greens in general is the high amounts of fiber.  The fiber allows your body to better absorb the nutrients that you are eating!

Blue, Indigo, and Violet

Phytonutrients and Vitamins: anthocyanins, resveratrol, polyphenols

Fruits and Veggies to Try:

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Eggplant
  • Figs
  • Plums
  • Prunes
  • Purple cauliflower
  • Purple potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Raisins
  • Red (purple) grapes
  • Red (purple) onions
  • Red (purple)cabbage

Brief Benefits:

Anthocyanins have been studied for quite some time and have been linked to a decrease in heart disease, repair oxidative stress, decrease inflammation and much more. So these can help if you are beginning an anti-inflammatory diet. These compounds are also great for cognitive health and with their antioxidant properties, they hunt down cell damaging free radicals in your body.

White and Brown

Phytonutrients and Vitamins: allicin, quercetin, kaempferol, sulforaphane

Fruits and Veggies to Try:

  • Cauliflower
  • Daikon
  • Garlic
  • Jicama
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Parsnips
  • Shallots
  • Turnips
  • White and yellow onion

Brief Benefits:

Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower contain high amounts of cancer fighting sulforaphane just like broccoli does.  Plants in the allium family contain allicin and quercetin which help boost your immune system, aid in dealing with allergies, keep your bones strong, and help your heart stay strong.

sweet potatoes with other fruits and vegetables - eat the rainbow

Tips and Tricks to Eating the Rainbow

Here are some general tips and tricks on how to eat the rainbow and things to keep in mind as you explore new foods.

Don't Focus Too Much on One Color (or Nutrients)

As you begin to explore new foods that might be absolutely foreign to you, it is a good idea to remember that you don’t want to focus on a single color.  The goal of eating the rainbow is variety in what you are eating and not pigeon-holing yourself to one color or one type of nutrient. 

The human body requires a great deal of micro and macronutrients.  It’s important to remember that some of those nutrients are only accessible through specific foods or taking them in a multivitamin.  Generally speaking, it is better to eat your nutrients rather than always going for a supplement (unless you truly need on as determined by a licensed physician).  This is why it is so important to include several colors on your plate as you learn to eat the rainbow.

Try New Vegetables and Fruits

The lists in this post are far from extensive: there are fruits and vegetables all around the world that some people have access to, and others don’t.  Trying new foods from your local Chinese market or from a local Indian market is going to open your eyes to some things that you might not have seen before.

While the foods in these lists are probably the most accessible kinds, it’s good to try new things when you can.  If you tend to shop in season for your region, you’ll find better produce prices and you might be able to try something new and exotic like dragon fruit or even Buddha’s hand.  There’s an endless variety of foods out there to try, so definitely see what you can find!

snack super by eating the rainbow with Jackson's

Avoid Processed Food

This is a general rule of thumb in many cases: the more processed a food is, the higher the chance that the food will cause an inflammatory response in your body or have some sort of toxin that’s just not all that good for you despite FDA approval. 

There are many ways to look at eating the rainbow.  Are you trying to expand your options and eat healthier? Or are you mainly wanting to grow your tastebuds?  Depending on your individual case, you may want to keep heavier meats, higher fats, and processed foods in your diet. 

If you are trying to maintain or increase your health, then it’s a good idea to decrease the amount of processed and preserved foods, high fat foods, red meat, and fattier meats too.  Try switching your oil from canola oil to coconut oil or avocado oil, and always try new spice combinations for flavoring rather than a premixed package that might have compounds that your body doesn’t need.

Try Different Recipes to Expand Your Taste

Sometimes when you try new foods, you aren’t going to like the way the food tastes.  For example, I despise arugula and most spring greens mixes because they are too bitter.  However, if I cook some of those greens, or add arugula to a romaine-based salad, then the bitterness isn’t so bad.  Another example is beets: I can’t stand beet juice!  However, if I roast or pickle my beets, I can’t get enough of them!

The heart of the matter is this: just because a fruit or vegetable tastes gross or as an odd texture, doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to like it in some other form.  Give yourself and these new foods a chance by trying out several different recipes!

Conclusion - Eat the Rainbow

Whether or not you already eat a balanced diet or even if you have favorite fruits and veggies, the biggest thing to take away is that you must have variety in your diet.  Don’t worry about letting go of your favorites: instead incorporate them into recipes and new ways of cooking.  Who knows, you might find your new favorite fruit or vegetable or tuber combination.

Click here to learn about Sweet Potatoes!