In those times when nutrition stumps you, consider this: eat the rainbow! The more colourful your meal, the better!
Now I should not need to clarify here that I am not talking about Skittles…but alas, I will anyway – I am not talking about Skittles – I am talking about a colourful assortment of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Have you ever noticed that the foods generally tagged as ‘bad’ tend to live primarily in the colour range of whites, beiges and browns? Think about it – sugar, pastry, pasta, rice, potato, heck even the animal foods fall under the beige category.
A beige meal may fill you up, yes, but it’s mostly filling you with beige nutrition, meaning its kind of so-so. These highly refined and colourless foods are mostly devoid of the vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals that encompass the nutritional spectrum.
OK, and what are phytochemicals, and why should we care?
Phytochemicals are found only in plant-based foods. There are thousands of them, only a fraction of which science has begun to understand. Some phytochemicals have either antioxidant or hormone-like actions and there is so much evidence that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is the best approach to getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs, especially for fighting off diseases.
Certain colours of foods are associated with certain phytochemicals, although they can vary and are not specific to each colour group.
Let’s have a look at what the rainbow has to offer.
It’s not a stretch to understand why red foods are good for heart and circulatory health. Additionally, the red spectrum offers lycopene and anthocyanin. Other benefits of red include improved memory, urinary tract health, decreased risk of some cancers, reduction in inflammation, increased immunity and improved digestion.
Reds that stand out are cranberries, red bell peppers, tomatoes, beets, watermelon, pomegranate and kidney beans.
Beta-carotene is the star here, but Vitamin C isn’t far behind. Orange foods also offer up Vitamin A, magnesium, fibre and bioflavonoids. Eating orange has been linked to skin and eye health, increased immunity, and decreased cancer risk and heart health.
Orange you glad for foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pumpkin, pawpaw, squash and oranges? We call these ‘glory foods’ in my house, yum yum!
Yellow foods contain nutrients such as Vitamin C, and are great for maintaining healthy skin by assisting in fighting off those blasted free radicals. Yellow also has good stuff that promotes digestion, optimal brain function, increased immunity, collagen strengthening in skin, tendons, ligaments etc., decreased stroke and again, decreased heart disease and cancer risks – are you noticing a trend with these plant-based foods and a reduction in cancer risks yet?
Shining yellow foods include pineapples, bananas, yellow peppers, lemon and grapefruit.
This colour seems to scare people the most; there are really only the strange few who would enjoy a plate of only lettuce. Thing is, it simply cannot be stressed enough how important green is to health. Besides chlorophyll (remember primary school – that’s what makes them green), which supports kidney and liver function, the greens have also got calcium, Vitamin K, folic acid, potassium – and that’s just the beginning.
Think lower risk of some cancers, improved eye health, strong teeth and bones, regulated blood pressure and, well, optimal overall health. This really shouldn’t be new or surprising information to you. Eat your greens!
Super greens include avocados, limes, broccoli, spinach, kiwis, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, bhagi, pak choi, celery, cucumber, watercress, green peppers, green onions/chives and zucchini.
Blue and Purple
Anthocyanin is responsible for these hues which have been linked with anti-aging properties as well as circulatory, brain, bone and urinary tract health. Need I mention that they lower risk of some cancers? Blue and purple foods are usually packed with lots of antioxidants and vitamins so these are not only pretty but also super beneficial to any meal.
Get that touch of blue from blueberries and plums, and purples from eggplant, grapes, purple cabbage and prunes.
White, Beige and Brown
I didn’t mean to discredit these all together. Neutral tones tend to work well with any colour combination and there are some essential foods that fit into this category as well.
White and beige fruits and veggies have been linked to lower cholesterol, decreased blood pressure, and a lower risk of heart disease. The key benefit of these are increased immunity, because they are anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory, which helps the body fight infections.
Go-to foods in this neutral range include garlic, onions, cauliflower, ginger, turnips, mushrooms and root vegetables – even potatoes. There is also an assortment of grains besides wheat to consider, such as millet, quinoa and brown rice.
Remember, beige food means bland people. Rainbow food – vibrant, healthy rainbow people!