Tips for a Colorful Diet



To illustrate the importance of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, health professionals often advise you to “eat the rainbow.”

You probably know that you should eat colorful fruits and vegetables, but you may wonder why it’s so important and if doing so truly benefits your health.

This article reviews the concept of eating the rainbow, its benefits, and how to do it.

Simply put, eating the rainbow involves eating fruits and vegetables of different colors every day.

Plants contain different pigments, or phytonutrients, which give them their color. Different-colored plants are linked to higher levels of specific nutrients and health benefits.

While eating more vegetables and fruit is always a good idea, focusing on eating a variety of colors will increase your intake of different nutrients to benefit various areas of your health.

While there are many purported benefits of phytonutrients, it’s difficult to perform randomized controlled trials — the most rigorous type of research — to prove their efficacy. As such, most research is based on population-level intakes and disease risk (1).

That said, almost all studies show benefits from regularly eating colorful fruits and vegetables with virtually no downsides. By getting a variety of color in your diet, you’re giving your body an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to benefit your health (1).

Here’s an overview of the health benefits of different-colored foods (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6):

Summary

To eat the rainbow, be sure to eat a variety of different-colored fruits and vegetables throughout your day. Most colorful fruits and veggies have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that may benefit different aspects of your health.

Each color represents a different phytochemical and set of nutrients that may benefit your health.

The following sections go into more detail regarding sample foods, their main phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, as well as the benefits of each color category (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Note that when it comes to vitamins and minerals, levels can vary for each vegetable or fruit.

Red

Fruits and veggies

tomatoestomato pastetomato saucewatermelonpink guavagrapefruit

Main phytonutrients

lycopene (from the vitamin A family)

Main vitamins and minerals

folatepotassiumvitamin A (lycopene)vitamin Cvitamin K1

Health benefits

anti-inflammatoryantioxidantmay benefit heart healthmay reduce sun-related skin damagemay lower your risk of certain cancers

Orange and yellow

Fruits and veggies

carrotssweet potatoesyellow peppersbananaspineappletangerinespumpkinwinter squashcorn

Main phytonutrients

carotenoids (e.g., beta carotene, alpha carotene, beta cryptoxanthin), which belong to the vitamin A family

Main vitamins and minerals

fiberfolatepotassiumvitamin A (beta carotene)vitamin C

Health benefits

anti-inflammatoryantioxidantmay benefit heart healthsupports eye healthmay lower your risk of cancer

Green

Fruits and veggies

spinachkalebroccoliavocadosasparagusgreen cabbageBrussels sproutsgreen herbs

Main phytonutrients

Leafy greens: chlorophyll and carotenoidsCruciferous greens (e.g., broccoli, cabbage): indoles, isothiocyanates, glucosinolates

Main vitamins and minerals

fiberfolatemagnesiumpotassiumvitamin A (beta carotene)vitamin K1

Health benefits

anti-inflammatoryantioxidantcruciferous veggies, in particular, may lower your risk of cancer and heart disease

Blue and purple

Fruits and veggies

blueberriesblackberriesConcord grapesred/purple cabbageeggplantplumselderberries

Main phytonutrients

Main vitamins and minerals

fibermanganesepotassiumvitamin B6vitamin Cvitamin K1

Health benefits

anti-inflammatoryantioxidantmay benefit heart healthmay lower your risk of neurological disordersmay improve brain functionmay lower your risk of type 2 diabetesmay lower your risk of certain cancers

Dark red

Fruits and veggies

Main phytonutrients

Main vitamins and minerals

fiberfolatemagnesiummanganesepotassiumvitamin B6

Health benefits

anti-inflammatoryantioxidantmay lower your risk of high blood pressuremay benefit heart healthmay lower your risk of certain cancersmay support athletic performance through increased oxygen uptake

White and brown

Fruits and veggies

cauliflowergarlicleeksonionsmushroomsdaikon radishparsnipswhite potatoes

Main phytonutrients

anthoxanthins (flavonols, flavones), allicin

Main vitamins and minerals

fiberfolatemagnesiummanganesepotassiumvitamin B6vitamin K1

Health benefits

anti-inflammatoryantioxidantmay lower your risk of colon and other cancersmay benefit heart healthSummary

Each color represents a different phytochemical and set of nutrients that may benefit your health.

The great thing about eating the rainbow is it’s easy to implement.

To eat the rainbow, try to incorporate two to three different-colored fruits or vegetables at every meal and at least one at every snack. While you don’t have to eat every single color every day, try to get them into your diet a few times per week. Here are some ideas:

Breakfast

an omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and orange bell peppersa smoothie with mango, banana, and dragonfruita Greek yogurt bowl with blueberries, kiwi, and strawberriesa breakfast egg sandwich with tomato, leafy greens, and avocado

Lunch or dinner

a mixed salad with green cabbage, lettuce, apple, shredded carrots, red pepper, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes paired with a protein source (e.g., kidney beans, chickpeas, grilled chicken, salmon)chicken with roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and garlichomemade soup with canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, chopped carrots, white potatoes or parsnip, and kalea goat cheese salad with pickled beets, arugula, avocado, and pecansspaghetti with tomato sauce, mushrooms, and zucchini

Snacks

an apple with peanut butterred pepper slices with hummusgrapes and cheesea green smoothie or juicea bananablueberries and yogurtbroccoli, carrots, and dipdried mango slices4–5 longan or lychee fruitedamame podscelery and melted cheese

The opportunities to include fruits and vegetables into your diet are endless. If you live in an area without fresh produce year-round, try purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables for some meals. They’re equally nutritious, accessible, and affordable.

Summary

Try to eat two to three different-colored fruits or vegetables at every meal, as well as one to two at every snack.

Remembering to eat the rainbow every day is a great and simple way to make sure you’re getting a variety of nutrients into your diet.

Fruits and vegetables of different colors confer various health benefits. By ensuring you’re eating a few colored fruits or vegetables at each meal, you’re setting yourself up for good health.

To try eating the rainbow, work toward adding at least two or three colored fruits or vegetables to each meal and at least one or two to each snack.



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