Why is “Eating the Rainbow” So Important?

When you think about it, putting together your plate of food for lunch, dinner or breakfast can be incredibly intimate. You are sourcing each ingredient that your body will depend on for fuel for the day while also delivering very particular nutrients that can impact every single system of your body. As I discussed in my recent My Perfect Plate blog, I haven’t always agreed with the USDA Guidelines on putting together a perfect plate. In general, I feel like these guidelines encourage people to eat for survival, not for optimal health and happiness. 

I like to boost my plate to include more nutrients, flavor, and dimension by enlisting the strategy of eating ‘the rainbow’ at every single meal. Checking off different colors on every plate of food you assemble helps you keep track of what nutrients you have already eaten. It also helps you to consume a wide range of nutrients that have many different functions and benefits. If you are anything like me, then creating meals during the pandemic has become a bit monotonous. But keeping the “eat the rainbow” strategy in mind has helped me think of new nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables to add to my recipes. Hopefully, by using this technique, you can find new ways to spice up your palate and diet, too!

Red

Red fruits and vegetables can be rich in an antioxidant called lycopene. This powerful carotenoid helps with sun protection, improved heart health, and a lowered risk of certain cancer types. Antioxidants help protect our bodies from various kinds of damage, which means that adding them to our diet as much as possible is essential. 

Out of all of the antioxidants, lycopene is one of the most effective in deactivating singlet oxygen – a process that protects your cells from significant damage or even death. Some research also shows that lycopene may help prevent macular degeneration – an age-related disease in which you begin to lose your central vision. One of the most concentrated sources of lycopene is tomatoes – specifically those that have been heated. Check out my Vegan Tomato Basil Tart and Gluten-Free Tomato Galette for some delicious tomato-based recipe ideas.

Vegetables: Tomatoes, red peppers, red onions, beets.
Fruits: Strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, cherries, apples, watermelon, red grapes, pink grapefruit.

Orange/Yellow

The yellow-orange-like color in some produce comes from the natural pigment beta-cryptoxanthin. Beta-cryptoxanthin converts into vitamin A, which helps prevent damage to your cells, reduce heart disease risk, and support your intracellular communication. Intracellular communication is integral to your body’s overall health because, without it, the systems within your body could not coordinate with one another to run smoothly.  

The bright yellow and orange colors may also be a result of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds travel to your eyes, where they absorb excess energy from sunlight, protecting your eyes from damage. The antioxidants block light from damaging the retina, which is why they are often referred to as “natural sunblock within the eye.” This is why the old claim that carrots (rich in carotenoids) are good for your eyes has solid merit. For recipes involving some of my favorite orange and yellow foods, check out my Savory Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Soup, Vegan Carrot Cake Loaf with Cashew Cream Cheese Frosting, and Roasted Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Salad.

Vegetables: Carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers.
Fruits: Oranges, clementines, bananas, pineapple, mango, pumpkin, apricots, peaches, butternut squash, sweet melon, papaya, corn.

Green

When we think of healthful veggies, green is likely the first color that comes to mind – and for a good reason! Dark, leafy greens contain a significant number of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. All green foods also contain myrosinase -an enzyme that, when chopped or chewed, produces the compound sulforaphane. Sulforaphane helps cells stay strong and protected, reducing the risk of various cancers. It is important to note that myrosinase is heat-sensitive, which means that it can be damaged upon cooking. To receive the full benefits of myrosinase and, therefore, sulforaphane, it is important to incorporate raw green vegetables into your diet as much as possible. 

To dive deeper into some of my personal favorite greens, kale contains many A, K, and C-vitamins, and I love to eat it raw in salads like my Vegan Kale Caesar with Chickpea Croutons. Spinach is another amazing leafy green with A and K vitamins and manganese, which helps regulate the hormone melatonin to help you sleep. I love including spinach in recipes like my Supergreen Immunity-Boosting Soup or Buddha Bowls like my Masala Chickpeas, Cashews & Spinach over Quinoa

Veggies: Kales, cabbages, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, brussels sprouts, green pepper, cucumber, celery, kohlrabi.
Fruits: Kiwi, avocado, green apple, green pear, lime, green grapes, honeydew melon.
Herbs: mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, basil.

White/Brown

They may be unassuming, but we cannot forget our white produce!. The onion family, which I discuss in my 15 Foods to Eat Everyday list, contains the compound allicin. Allicin helps reduce inflammation, among many other health benefits. Other foods in this group like garlic and leeks contain quercetin and kaempferol, which are flavanols that help lower bad cholesterol and high blood pressure, all while boosting your immune system. One great characteristic of onions is that you can consume them raw or cooked without losing any antioxidants!

A well-rounded salad of mine that has leeks is the Lemony Sorghum Salad with Leeks and Asparagus. It includes various greens, grains, and leeks, making it a perfect example of eating the rainbow. 

Vegetables: Onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms, ginger, artichoke.

Purple

Purple veggies and fruits get their naturally dark color from anthocyanin, an antioxidant that protects plants from sun damage and cold temperatures. That same protective property also applies to humans, so we want to eat purple fruits and veggies daily. Anthocyanin helps protect our cells from damage and may help delay cellular aging. 

Some great purple produce-based recipes to incorporate into your repertoire include my Purple Cabbage Veggie Rolls with Juka Organics Red Palm Oil or Leafy Lettuce Taco Wraps with Red Quinoa and Purple Potato.

Veggies: Eggplants, purple cabbage, beets, red onions.
Fruits: Blueberry, blackberry, purple grapes, plums, figs, acai, raisins.

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Eating the rainbow may sound like just a fun way to build your plate, but eating various these colorful foods every day can lead to massive health benefits! I enjoy looking down at my plate and seeing all the vibrant colors, knowing I am feeding my body the highest quality and most natural nutrients it can get. Many of these vegetables and fruits are easy to snack on raw or incorporate as part of your daily dinners and lunches. If you are interested in incorporating more colors into your diet but are unsure where to start, try my delivered S.O.U.P Cleanse!