Eat the Rainbow: How Food Color and Nutrients are Linked
We’ve all been told to eat our greens, but how about being told to eat the rainbow? (and no, I don’t mean “tasting the rainbow” like Skittles.) The recent health-positive trend, the rainbow diet, has revolutionized the way we can think about consuming our vibrant veggies and fruits. Our bodies need a variety of vitamins and minerals to survive and stay healthy, and luckily, Mother Nature has color-coded them for us!
- The rainbow diet is a lifestyle and diet approach that encourages the daily consumption of colorful fruits, vegetables, and other natural foods such as herbs and teas.
- Each color of the rainbow reaps tremendous benefits for our bodies, including boosting our immune and cardiovascular systems, reducing risk of cancers, and mood improvement.
- There are so many recipes that can help you eat the rainbow, but eating colorful fruits and vegetables does not have to be a challenge by any means.
What is a rainbow diet?
Unlike many other health trends (which are typically more health fads if we’re being honest), the rainbow diet is a health-positive idea that simply encourages the daily consumption of colorful fruits and veggies. While the idea behind it isn’t anything new, the term “rainbow diet” has recently started to generate some serious buzz in the health and fitness industry.
Essentially, the idea behind "eat the rainbow" is that plants are filled with phytonutrients that give them their specific colors. These micronutrients support our health and fight off biological stress with an abundance of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules. Switching up the colors of your produce regularly and incorporating different colors into each meal can reap tremendous benefits for your body and keep you happy and healthy in the long-run.
Rather than being depleting and exhausting, the rainbow diet is nourishing, sustainable, and freeing. It holds virtually no downsides; it is a win-win! Incorporating a rainbow diet into your lifestyle should be considered a new approach to eating, rather than a “quick-fix” or a temporary solution. This approach is not restrictive by any means, but rather, it empowers you via the energy from simple, whole foods to enhance both your mood and your health.
Breaking down the rainbow
Research estimates that up to 92% of adults in the US suffer from at least one vitamin or nutrient deficiency. Eating a plethora of colors significantly lowers your risk of missing out on vital nutrients. It is important to note that not all of your vibrant colors have to come solely from fruits and vegetables; the rainbow diet extends to other natural foods including herbs, seeds, legumes, and teas. Dr. Deanna Minich, nutritionist, health expert, and author of The Rainbow Diet, highlights, “If we miss out on a color of the rainbow, we may be missing a function of that food.” So let’s break down the rainbow to determine what benefits each color provides.
Apples, tomatoes, red bell peppers, watermelon, and red onions; we all know and (some of us) love them. Starting off bold with red, we have fruits and veggies that are high in Vitamin C. Vitamin C is involved in numerous functions, including collagen formation, iron absorption, and immune system functions such as wound healing.
The red color is given by lycopene and anthocyanin, which help to decrease the risk of heart disease, arthritis, and can help to reduce sun-related damage. A bonus for the Italian food lovers out there: when combined with olive oil, the lycopene found in tomatoes increases. So keep eating your marinara!
All of our orange foods are colored by beta-carotene, a pigment that our body converts into Vitamin A. Vitamin A protects eyesight, supports a healthy immune system, can reduce your risk of acne, and promotes reproductive health benefits. Think: sweet potato, mango, cantaloupe, turmeric, and carrots. Additionally, the carotenoids found in orange foods have been shown to reduce the risk of a variety of cancers.
Yellow foods are high in short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Although it sounds like a mouthful (no pun intended), short-chain fatty acids help with our gut health; yellow foods are filled with prebiotics that encourage bacteria in our gut to produce nourishing molecules (this is where the SCFAs come in!) Additionally, the lutein found in our yellows help to boost cognitive activity and increase dopamine levels, fighting off risk of depression. For this, think corn, ginger, pineapple, squash, and bananas.
We’ve all been told to eat our greens, but has anyone ever told you why? The green color comes from chlorophyll, a powerful phytochemical that has anti-inflammatory properties, balances your hormones and insulin, and is a natural detoxicant. Additionally, it protects the cardiovascular system by working to prevent high blood pressure, narrowing arteries, and heart disease.) Everyone knows the classic green veggies, but incorporating green olives, edamame, kiwi, and green tea into your diet can provide the same benefits.
Blues and Purples
At the end of the rainbow, we have our blues and purples that have similar micronutrients. This category includes blackberries, figs, purple potatoes and carrots, and blueberries. These foods have antioxidant superpowers that help increase brain function, lower the risk of heart disease and neurological disorders and Type 2 Diabetes. Specifically, they contain phytonutrients that keep blood flowing smoothly, protect against cell damage that can lead to cancer, and control insulin levels in the blood.
Eat the rainbow recipes
I’ve compiled a list of recipes that incorporate a little bit of every color to get your foot in the door of a rainbow diet. Of course, feel free to substitute some of the fruits and veggies provided for ones you prefer!
Starting off quick and easy, this nutrient-packed smoothie is the perfect way to get some vitamins in for breakfast or for a snack. This smoothie contains red, orange, green, and blue fruits and veggies. Your body will thank you!
This quinoa-based taco bowl is full of whole foods that will keep you full and satisfied and keep your tummy (and body) happy. It takes only 15 minutes of prep time, and would be a great option to meal prep.
Bell pepper, water chestnuts, edamame, green beans and baby corn. Does it get any better than that? This healthier take on a stir-fry is stuffed with vegetables of every color.
This versatile, vegan soup contains veggies from each of the color groups and can be easily modified by using veggies you have on hand or by omitting the ones you don’t! Additionally, it freezes well and is great to meal prep in large batches.
Who said salads have to be boring? Spice up your plate with this aesthetically pleasing, delicious, nutrient-packed salad! A colorful take on a caprese salad, serve with your favorite protein to make this side-salad a main course.
All-in-all, we could all spice up our lives by adding a little bit of color into our diet. Incorporating vibrant colors doesn’t have to be a challenge by any means- don’t overthink it!
Dietetic intern and graduate student Alexa Burnett (@eatsbyalexa) notes, “Incorporating fruits and vegetables into your diet is important to ensure you’re getting a variety of vitamins and minerals. If you don’t think you like a certain vegetable, try cooking it a different way. Carrots with hummus, celery with peanut butter, and grapes and berries are all examples of colorful, easy snacks.”
Our food is our fuel, and there is no denying the benefits that fruits and veggies provide. If you choose to partake in the vibrant world of the rainbow diet, make sure to consult with a registered dietitian with any specific concerns to see what works best for you. But make sure to eat your greens-- and your reds, oranges, yellows, blues and purples!
Written by Morgan Taylor