Updated: Aug 29, 2021
Have you heard someone say: Eat the rainbow - suggesting we eat fruit and vegetables of different colours every day?
Why is this important and sound advice?
It's easy to settle on a handful of fresh fruits and vegetables that our families and we enjoy. However, variety is as important as quantity for vegetables and fruit, supporting gut health and overall health and wellness. The saying: 'variety is the spice of life' is especially true for our bodies. We need various vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to stay healthy, and mother nature has made this easy by colour coding our food for us.
Plants contain different pigments, carotenoids and flavonoids, or phytonutrients that give them their colour. Different coloured plants are linked to higher levels of specific nutrients and health benefits.
Carotenoids decrease the risk of disease, particularly certain cancers and eye diseases. Several carotenoids are being studied, such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Anthocyanins are flavonoids found in darker red, purple, blue vegetables and fruits like berries (read "The Mighty Blueberry"), currants, grapes, leafy vegetables, grains, and root veggies.
Research suggests that eating specific colours of veg and fruit correlates to less disease risk in different body areas. For example, eating white fruits & vegetables correlates with reduced stroke incidence. Each 25g increase per day in white fruit and vegetables was associated with a 9% lower risk of stroke.
The more green and white fruits and vegetables eaten, reduce cardiovascular risks and abdominal fat gain for men. For women, eating red and purple fruit and vegetables was linked with lower weight and abdominal fat gain, healthier blood sugar management and total cholesterol.
Eating more dark orange fruit and vegetables shows a 25% lower association with heart disease. Carrots are stars, showing a 32% lower risk of coronary heart disease!
Nature's colour coding
White or brown foods
Typically the darker the food, the more nutrient-dense the food is. But white or tan foods are the exception to the rule. They contain tannins, allicin, quercetin, selenium, sulforaphane and more, helping with healthy inflammation and liver, and support hormone health and the immune system.
Include these into your meals and snacks:
Apples, bananas, lychees, white peaches, white nectarines, cauliflower, coconut, dates, garlic, ginger, chickpeas, white beans (cannellini, lima beans) mushrooms, onions, flax seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, tahini, parsnips, potatoes, brown lentils, mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke, and whole grains.
Green foods contain lutein, isothiocyanates, chlorophyll, isoflavones, and Vitamin K. They are anti-inflammatory, support your liver, and are vital for brain and heart health. In addition, vitamin K supports bone health by helping with the absorption of calcium.
Leafy green vegetables are bursting with antioxidants and folates (especially important when pregnant). Leafy greens such as kale have as much calcium as milk. Broccoli supports our immune system and can be helpful in the prevention of cancer.
Include these into your meals and snacks:
Leafy vegetables like kale, romaine lettuce, collard greens, spinach, swiss chard, bok choy, and arugula. Vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, brussels sprouts, green beans, celery, cucumbers, asparagus, green bell peppers, edamame, peas (green peas, snow peas, snap peas) and fruit like avocado, green apples, lime, kiwi and green grapes.
Orange + Yellow foods
Yellow foods contain compounds like lutein, zeaxanthin, carotenoids like betacarotene and curcuminoids, Vitamin C and A.
Hesperidin in citrus fruits increases blood flow and may help prevent strokes. These are anti-inflammatory and promote eye, skin, brain and heart health and supports immunity. Because of their anti-cancer, microbial, and inflammatory properties, these fruit and veg have also been shown to help those with Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and even diabetes.
Include these into your meals and snacks: Sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, butternut, pumpkin, carrots, yellow apples (e.g. golden delicious), lemon, pineapple, mangos, nectarines, peaches, apricots, oranges + citrus fruits, papayas, yellow melon/cantaloupes, bananas, corn, turmeric.
Red fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanidins, carotenoids, lycopene and ellagic acid with cancer-fighting benefits, reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Watermelon is even higher in lycopene than tomatoes. Lycopene may help protect against prostate and breast cancers. The carotenoids may also help prevent sun damage, and the antioxidant properties help prevent chronic and heart disease.
Tomatoes, red lentils, red pepper, red onions, radish, kidney beans, red beans, red rice, beets, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, watermelon, rhubarb, red apples, cherries, red grapes, plums, and pomegranate.
Purple and blue foods
Flavonoids in blue and purple foods give them their deep colour. They have been studied for many years and have been shown to help prevent coronary heart disease and cancer.
Blue, purple and deep-red fruits and vegetables are full of proanthocyanidins and anthocyanins. These are antioxidants that help to keep our brains functioning optimally and our hearts healthy. Anthocyanins may help protect cells from damage and reduce the chances of cancer, stroke, and heart disease. These foods also contain resveratrol, which is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and good for the brain!
Beetroot, radishes, and purple cabbage contain nitrates that help lower blood pressure naturally. The darker fruits contain phytochemicals that help recover damage from stress and inflammation.
Include these into your meals and snacks:
Eggplant, purple/red cabbage, red kale, red leaf lettuce, red kale, purple potatoes, beetroot, radishes, purple carrots, black olives, berries (blueberries and blackberries), passionfruit, purple grapes, purple plums, prunes, figs, raisins and dark cherries. (read "The Mighty Blueberry")
Eating the rainbow is as simple as introducing as many colours into every meal, but here are two recipes to inspire you:
RAINBOW DINNER WITH CHICKEN INGREDIENTS Sweet potatoes 2 medium sweet potatoes or 1 large, peeled and diced into large cubes 1.5 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon paprika powder 1 teaspoon cumin powder 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Beetroot 1/2 red onion, finely diced 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar 1 teaspoon mustard 3 tablespoons olive oil 3 medium beets, peeled and grated (I suggest to use kitchen gloves or peel the beets under running water to avoid skin stains) 1 large carrot, grated 1/3 cup black pitted olives (the less salty Spanish olives are best), sliced 1/4 cup chopped parsley (a good handful of fresh parsley) 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Sticky chicken 600 g chicken strips, breast or thighs (or mix), sliced into strips 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil 2 cloves garlic, finely diced 1 tablespoon tomato paste 1/4 cup coconut aminos, Tamari or Soy Sauce 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice 2 teaspoons honey, maple syrup or coconut nectar (see Whole30 notes below)
Green veg 1/2 head broccoli, cut into florets (halve larger florets) 200 g fine green beans, ends chopped off 1 tablespoon olive oil (or butter)
1 garlic clove, diced or grated (can be omitted) Juice of 1/2 lemon Sea salt and pepper to taste
Sweet potatoes. Heat the oven to 200 C. Mix diced sweet potatoes t with olive oil, paprika and cumin. Coat well and spread on a flat baking tray and roast for 20-25 minutes, until soft and tender. Season with sea salt at the end.
Beetroot: Marinade the onions. Combine the chopped onions with vinegar, mustard, and olive oil and stir. Leave for 5-10 minutes. Add the grated beets, carrots, olives and parsley to the bowl and season with salt. Stir well, making sure the vegetables are coated evenly.
Chicken. Season chicken pieces evenly with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium to high heat. Fry the chicken pieces in batches, for 3-4 minutes on each side. When both sides of the chicken are browned, add the garlic and stir through. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and drizzle over the chicken. Toss through and allow to cook until the sauce starts to caramelise and gets sticky.
Make the greens. Add boiled water to the pot, add the beans and cook in simmering water for 1 minute. Add the broccoli and cook together for 2 more minutes. Drain and set aside. Add the olive oil to the pot and heat over medium, stir in the garlic + add back the greens. Drizzle with lemon juice and season with a little salt.
RAINBOW VEGGIE BOWL
1 sweet potato, cubed
1/ 2 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
2 large handfuls of mixed greens
1/ 2 cup cooked brown rice
1/ 2 yellow pepper, sliced `
1 avocado, sliced `
1/ 2 bunch radishes, sliced
1 cucumber, sliced
Sweet potato. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Place the sweet potato and cauliflower in a roasting pan and add olive oil and salt. Roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
Eggs. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Carefully add the eggs and cook for 7 minutes, then immediately put in ice-cold water to stop cooking.
Assembly. Assemble the bowls by adding salad leaves, egg, sliced yellow pepper, radishes, cucumber, avocado, cooked rice and roasted sweet potato and cauliflower.
Add dressing of choice.