You may have heard doctors and dieticians use the phrase “eat the rainbow” to encourage people to include more fruits and vegetables in their diets. But what may surprise you is just how many health benefits a colorful variety of produce can deliver.
These days, many of us are stuck in a rut of eating a “beige diet” filled with white or beige-colored foods. Think breads, crackers, milk, cereal, granola bars, cookies, white bread, macaroni/pasta, potatoes, and chicken. No, not all of those are bad for you. But generally, beige-colored foods are the ones that are easy to get; cheap; high in sugar, fat, and salt; and lacking in the nutritional value you need for good health.
What health advocates suggest instead is to introduce all the colors of the rainbow into our diet. This will give us the full spectrum of nutrients that our favorite beige foods are lacking.
Different Colors, Different Benefits
You can learn a lot about your food just by looking at it.
All fruits and vegetables are naturally pigmented by the various phytochemicals they contain. Phytochemicals offer different nutrients that help keep you healthy and reduce your risk for chronic diseases. When you realize that different colored foods contain different nutrients, you can understand why eating a wider variety of colored fruits and vegetables means you’re taking in a wider variety of nutrients. In turn, you enjoy more health benefits and greater protection against disease.
Typically, fruits and vegetables that are red get their color from lycopene and anthocyanins, which are praised for their antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. Red produce is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and fiber. It is known for: promoting good joint, brain, lung, and heart health; fighting off certain cancers, including prostate cancer; lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure; and attacking free radicals.
Some red fruit and vegetable options to consider adding to your diet include strawberries, watermelon, radishes, red cabbage, beets, red peppers, and tomatoes.
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables get their color from beta-carotene and carotenoids. They are high in vitamins A and C, often contain a high level of fiber, and offer significant levels of potassium, manganese, and various B vitamins. The nutrients in orange and yellow produce tend to be known for: fighting free radicals and the effects of aging; boosting heart, skin, and immune system health; lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure; and reducing the risk of eye diseases, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Some orange and yellow fruits and vegetables to choose on your next trip to the grocery store include carrots, lemons, pumpkin, yellow summer squash, peaches, sweet potato, corn, oranges, pineapple, and butternut squash.
Green fruits and vegetables mostly get their color from chlorophyll, which fights against cell damage that can lead to cancer. Green produce is packed with vitamin K, vitamin C, several B vitamins, fiber, most nutritional metals, and various minerals, including calcium and potassium.
Fruits and vegetables in this group are known to: aid in digestion; improve the immune system; fight diabetes; promote heart health; lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure; and keep bones and teeth strong. In addition, dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens contain the antioxidant lutein, an important phytochemical that protects the eyes.
To add more options to your diet from this category, pick the previously mentioned dark leafy greens, as well as broccoli, kiwi, green beans, peas, asparagus, avocados, zucchini, and honeydew lemon.
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables get their color from powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, the same that are found in red produce, as well as other phytochemicals with strong cancer-fighting properties. They also contain vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and fiber.
Blue and purple produce is good for: supporting brain function and improving memory; reducing inflammation; boosting the immune system; aiding in digestion; fighting the effects of aging; and promoting good heart health. They are also believed to be anti-carcinogens. This means they could help slow, stop, or even reverse cancerous cell growth.
Some blue and purple foods to look for are eggplant, figs, purple cabbage, purple onions, purple potatoes, purple grapes, plums, blueberries, and blackberries.
What white and tan fruits and vegetables lack in color, they make up for in nutrition. Many are filled with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties, which is great news for your immune system. They also contain vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and fiber. They help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce your risk of stomach cancer and heart disease.
Enjoy the benefits of adding things like mushrooms, cauliflower, onions, parsnips, potatoes, ginger, leeks, brown pears, dates, jicama, and garlic to your diet.
Taste the Rainbow
To help you get more of your recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, here are a few tips:
- Make things colorful with a stir-fry. Mix red, yellow, and green peppers with chicken, or try pork chops with a mixture of broccoli, carrots, onions, and red peppers.
- Add spinach to your pasta or drop it into a hearty chicken, rice, and vegetable soup during the last few minutes of heating.
- Buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season and at their peak of freshness and flavor.
- Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter or a bowl of ready-to-eat fruit salad in the refrigerator.
- Don’t let prep time get in your way. If you are in a hurry and it will make you more likely to eat them, buy microwave-ready vegetables to steam for a side dish or pre-cut, pre-washed vegetables for dipping.
- Eat a large bowl of salad and pack it with colorful vegetables, such as beets, purple cabbage, carrots, celery, and red peppers.
- Don’t worry about turning on the oven. Microwave white or sweet potatoes for a quick vegetable option.
- Try new recipes that include a wide variety of vegetables.
Any step you take toward adding fruits and vegetables to your diet is a step in the right direction, but we hope you’ll be inspired to try every color of the rainbow, choosing produce that’s both pleasing to the eye and good for your body.