There are a lot of confusing guidelines out there about how to eat healthy. It seems like every day a new headline comes out telling us which foods we should (or shouldn’t) be eating. It can be a really confusing world to navigate. That’s why I really enjoy it when healthy eating is boiled down into simple-to-understand goals. One of my favorites of these types of eating goals is an awfully colorful one—eat the fruit and veggie rainbow every day.
It sounds too simple to be effective, but by covering the whole spectrum of colors with your food daily, you are ensuring you get a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And by focusing on variety, it means you aren’t overloading on any one-color group. Which is a great way to make sure you aren’t overdoing it with any one type of food.
Plants use colours as their protective mechanisms, their security blanket from the sun and pests but also to attract birds and insects for pollination and seed dispersal. Those colours are the sources of powerful phytonutrients or phytochemicals – which is a name to describe thousands of different chemicals that studies show reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in people who eat a diet high in plant-based foods.
The wonderful colours in vegetables and fruits represent over 25,000 different phytonutrients which, when consumed, stimulate enzymes that help the body eliminate toxins, boost the immune system, promote healthy oestrogen metabolism, support cardiovascular health and kill off cancer cells. Can you see why a bland diet just won’t do? It’s just so cool that these plants’ protective properties are such powerful defenders of our health.
What’s even cooler is that each different colour represents different families of healing chemicals. Back when we were hunter-gatherers we ate over 800 different types of fruit and vegetables. These days we have selectively bred the colours we eat into very narrow ranges whereas in nature, plant foods come in a painter’s palette of colour. There are red carrots in India, purple potatoes in Peru, but we eat orange carrots and white potatoes. There are 150 varieties of sweet peas, but only a few are available to us.
So next time you are shopping, get out of your shopping comfort zone, no more bland! Phytonutrients aren’t just limited to fruits and vegetables; you can get them from legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and teas. So pick a different variety, a new vegetable you haven’t tried before, buy new herbs and a selection of nuts and seeds and keep those colourful phytonutrients flowing.
How much? is always the question I get asked. Honestly? 9-12 portions of fruit and vegetables per day is what I encourage. And of those, one or two portions of each colour per day is a good goal to strive for! If you aim to have one fruit and three vegetables per meal, this is easily achievable.
Think, shop and cook with colour in mind, pack as much colour as you can into your fridges and onto your plates and watch the magic happen.
If colour isn’t enough to guide you, here are the best of the best choices we have – see how many you can tick off each week:
Tomatoes, beetroot, pink grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries, red peppers, raspberries, apples, adzuki and kidney beans, blood oranges, cranberries, cherries, goji berries, grapes, onions, plums, pomegranate, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, rooibos tea, red rice, red quinoa.
All of these foods have reported anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, gastrointestinal, heart, hormonal and liver health benefits.
Banana, lemon, corn, peppers, pineapple, ginger root, star fruit, squash, yellow chard, corn on the cob, apples, yellow courgettes, honeydew melon, yellow tomatoes.
These foods have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, cell protective, eye, heart, skin and vascular health properties.
Carrots, mangos, apricots, cantaloupes, pumpkin, acorn squash, winter squash, sweet potatoes, red lentils, turmeric, oranges, tangerines, peaches, papayas, nectarines, yams, cantaloupe, bell peppers.
These foods contain anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, immune supportive, reproductive and skin health.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kale, artichoke, asparagus, avocado, bean sprouts, peppers, melon, celery, cucumber, green beans, green peas, green tea, chard, lettuce, spinach, limes okra, pears, watercress, courgette, olives.
Anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, neurological, hormonal, heart, liver and skin health.
White, brown & beige
Leeks, scallions, garlic, onions, celery, pears, white wine, endive, dates, cauliflower, mushrooms, nuts, ginger, cocoa, coconut, coffee, tea, seeds, chickpeas and butter beans, hummus.
Anti-cancer, anti-microbial, gastrointestinal, heart, hormone and liver health.
Blue, indigo & violet
Blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, figs, purple grapes, red wine, plums, prunes, raisins, purple broccoli, aubergine, purple potatoes, cabbage, onions, kale, olives, rice, carrots, cauliflower, aubergine.
Anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, cognitive, heart, skin and liver health.
Create the rainbow. Food is so much more than nutrition. It is our earliest, deepest relationship. It is how we survive and achieve optimal nourishment for sure, but it is also how compatible we are with our kitchens. Eating phytonutrients does require kitchen time, creating rainbow meals with fun and joy, creating deliciousness for your loved ones and yourself. It doesn’t have to be gourmet but if it’s made from scratch, it’s one of the most powerful things you can do for your health.