Have you heard your friends tell you to “eat the rainbow”? What exactly does “eat the rainbow” mean? It’s a term that is often used in the nutrition world, and it refers to getting a balanced diet with plenty of different fruits and vegetables of all colors. Ancient humans ate over 800 types of plants of all different colors to meet their daily nutritional needs. In today’s world, each color of the rainbow represents a different nutrient that our bodies need.
In this article, we will discuss the various health benefits of eating the rainbow, what the different colors mean, as well as provide some tips on how to get started!
Why You Should Eat the Rainbow
Eating the rainbow has many health benefits it ensures that you are getting a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients are essential for maintaining a healthy immune system, keeping your skin and hair healthy, and preventing chronic diseases, like heart disease, and age-related diseases.
Eating the rainbow is a simple reminder for adults and kids alike to make sure that all of the essential vitamins and minerals are covered on a regular basis.
While that’s the simple answer, and you can definitely keep it simple and just eat the rainbow and move on if you want to learn a bit more about the benefits and why eating the rainbow is important, you can read on to find out about all of the different colors and how they improve your overall health.
What do the Different Colors Mean?
A real rainbow has seven colors; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. When we talk about eating the rainbow, we typically focus on fruits and vegetables that are varying shades of red, orange, yellow, green, and purple. These colors represent different nutrients that our bodies need in order to function properly.
So what are the colors for and what are some examples?
Nutritional Value of Red Foods
Nutritious red foods are red because of lycopene. Interestingly, not all red foods have lycopene, like strawberries and cherries, and aren’t healthy in the traditional sense. However, red foods that have lycopene such as tomatoes and bell peppers are an important part of a balanced diet. Red foods are great additions as toppings to a variety of meals, like salads and sandwiches.
The lycopene in red vegetables protects against heart disease and cancer. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and is also an anti-inflammatory. Potential unproven benefits include better heart health and reducing skin damage from damaging UV rays.
How to Eat the Red Part of the Rainbow
Here are some examples of healthy red foods.
- Bell Peppers
- Carrots (carrots come in many colors not just orange)
Orange and Yellow
Nutritional Value of Orange Foods
You may have heard carrots help your vision, but how? Orange and yellow foods have alpha- and beta-carotene along with other carotenoids in the vitamin A family. You’ll also get plenty of potassium and vitamin C from these foods.
Carotenoids in orange foods help support skin and eye health and serve as a precursor to vitamin A, an important anti-oxidant.
How to Eat the Orange and Yellow Part of the Rainbow
Here are some examples of fruits and vegetables that fit into the Orange category. I’ve left out a lot of citrus fruits but I’m sure you get the idea.
- Sweet Potatoes
- Oranges (of course!)
Nutritional Value of Green Foods
We’ve been told to eat our greens since we were little, but why? Green vegetables have too many phytochemicals to list and a ton of essential vitamins and minerals. The most important for your diet are; fiber, folate, magnesium, and potassium.
Green vegetables are anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and detoxifying. Cruciferous vegetables (leafy greens like brussels sprouts) may also lower your risk of heart disease.
How to Eat the Green Part of the Rainbow
Here are some examples of fruits and vegetables that fit into the Green category. Greens make excellent sides and leafy greens are of course excellent bases for salads!
- Bok Choy
- Brussels Sprouts
Nutritional Value of Blue-Purple Foods
The blue-purple part of eating the rainbow comes down to getting anthocyanins in your diet, along with many other benefits. Anthocyanins are phytonutrients that give these foods their special color.
Blue-purple foods also typically have high concentrations of fiber, potassium, manganese, and other vitamins. These have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and are also thought to improve brain and heart health while reducing the risk for Type 2 Diabetes and some cancers.
How to Eat the Blue-Purple Part of the Rainbow
Here are some examples of fruits and vegetables that fit into the Blue-Purple category. Fresh fruits from the Blue-purple category are great for salads and smoothies!
- Purple Cabbage (might be called Red Cabbage)
- Purple Cauliflower
White (and Brown)
Nutritional Value of White Foods
White isn’t technically a color in the real rainbow, but white/brown/pale foods are an essential part of a well-rounded diet. White foods contain compounds called allicins which prevent cancer, boost your immune system, and have anti-microbial
How to Eat the Orange Part of the Rainbow
Here are some examples of fruits and vegetables that fit into the Orange category.
How to Eat the Rainbow Daily
The best way to eat the rainbow daily is to incorporate healthy vegetables and occasional fruits into every meal. If you do this in small portions you can keep the same overall taste profile of your meals as before and improve your overall health.
Think in Twos! If you can get 2 servings of vegetables or fruits per meal you’ll cover your bases by dinner easily! Snacks count too so it’s ok if you miss one. With a powerful blender or food processor, reaching this target can be as simple as a morning smoothie!
Blue-purple berries are great at breakfast as a base for smoothies or even in homemade McGriddles. They can also be combined with green smoothies for added flavor to get two groups in before noon!
Carrots which can be orange, purple, or pale white make great snacks throughout the day. As do greens like sugar-snap peas, celery, and broccoli. Sweet potatoes, part of the healthy orange group, make an excellent side as roasted sweet potatoes.
White brown foods, like garlic and onion, are usually included in dinners. Tomatoes from the red group go with almost anything, but if you don’t like tomatoes bell peppers are great as a topping too.
The best way to eat the rainbow daily is to check yourself at the grocery store or farmers’ market. When you select your fresh produce make sure you buy all of the colors available. If you eat the fresh foods you buy you’ll get all of the vitamins and minerals you need. Even if you miss out on one on a particular day, over the long run you’ll get the benefits of eating the rainbow week after week!
I hope this post helped you with the basics of eating the rainbow! It’s really just a simple reminder to eat a variety of wholesome vegetables and fruits that have all the natural vitamins and minerals you need to enjoy the health benefits of eating the rainbow!
Let me know how you eat the rainbow in the comments below!