You hear it all the time - “Eat the rainbow”. But what – and why?
Certainly ‘eating with your eyes’ – which colourful food helps with – makes sense, as something that looks good to eat aids salivation, and the mouth is the first place we start to break down food and obtain nutritional goodness from it…
But it goes waaaaayyyy beyond that, and ‘eating the rainbow’ is an EASY way to help you get the most from your food and enhance your health. It’s all about what you are adding IN, not taking out (and how often do you hear that mentioned in relation to diet and health…!).
Before I trained as a Registered Nutritional Therapist I’m not ashamed to admit I hadn’t really thought about why eating a wide variety of colourful foods was really important for our health. And, hey, I’m not talking about those ‘attractive’ foods in bright colourful packets, or that doughnut with multicoloured sprinkles…but the fresh, real deal – especially plant foods.
As well as containing essential micronutrients such as Vitamin C, one of the MAJOR benefits of eating a wide VARIETY of colourful plant foods – particularly vegetables – is the availability of different PHYTOCHEMICALS or phytonutrients. Although these ‘accessory nutrients’ are not considered ‘essential’ in the classical sense, research is indicating more and more that they can contribute significantly to maintaining good health.
There are THOUSANDS of these beneficial phytochemicals available in plant foods. For example, one group, called ‘flavonoids’, have been shown to act as antioxidants (scavenging potentially damaging free radicals in the body), can be anti-inflammatory, and may also offer cardiovascular, metabolic, neuroprotective and anti-viral benefits, amongst others.1
Here’s some ideas of different coloured plants (keep your eyes peeled when you are shopping to try something new!)
Red cabbage, tomatoes, red onions, rhubarb, cherries, raspberries, pomegranate…
Carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, squash, oranges, grapefruit…
Spinach, celery, broccoli, green peppers, cucumber, asparagus, courgette, kiwi…
Beetroot, aubergine, blueberries, blackberries, purple carrots…
Ginger, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, Jerusalem artichokes…
Just remember: the more COLOUR and VARIETY you add in, the greater the exposure to beneficial nutrients! Some top tips for getting in more beneficial phytochemicals include:
Consume at least one serving a day from each of the different colour categories above - with a focus on vegetables (a half cup of cooked vegetables per serving, for example). You may find it motivational to create a small chart to tick off against the different colours during the day.
VARY your choices. Even if colourful, if we eat the same foods over and over, we are still not maximising the phytochemicals we can obtain – so colour AND variety is important. Challenge yourself to try at least one new thing a week. Look out for seasonal ‘special buys’ such as the Aldi Super6 and be adventurous!
Be CREATIVE with your menus. Even when life is busy, lots of things can be quick! For example, add some berries to your oatmeal, or add different coloured vegetables to your omelette in the morning. Think about what you are adding IN.
Consider SUBSTITUTIONS. If you normally eat white potatoes think about buying some sweet potatoes or purple potatoes instead? Maybe buy some red apples if you normally buy green…
Next time you go shopping think about the colour from your fresh foods (particularly vegetables) and what you can add IN. Easy peasy – lemon squeezy (yep, you can add that in too!).
1 Panche, A.N., Diwan, A.D. and Chandra, S.R. (2016) “Flavonoids: an overview,” Journal of Nutritional Science, 5(e47). Doi:10.1017/jns.2016.41