The colours of the rainbow - creating a healthy diet


"Eat your greens" - it's a message we've all heard from when we were young, and one which many of us have passed on to our own children. However, with variety being such a key part to a healthy diet, the message we should now be passing on is "eat the rainbow".

Most of us are aware that we should aim to eat at least seven to nine portions of fruit and vegetables a day, yet of us don't for one reason or another. The rainbow diet is based around increasing the range of fruit and vegetables we eat, and the effect that this variety can have on our bodies. This means a steady increase in nutrients, and while fruit and vegetables are very filling, it means few calories, too.

What is the rainbow diet?

The term itself may be a little misleading as it is not a diet as such, more of a concept around the best way of getting all the nutrients our body needs. By eating meals that have foods with different colours in them, we'll inevitably increase the amount of fruit and vegetables we eat on a daily basis, which means an increase in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Many years of research have told us that diets which are rich in fruit and vegetables are one of the best ways we can avoid chronic illnesses.

The benefits of the rainbow diet

As well as the fibre, vitamins and minerals that are found in fruits and vegetables, eating these naturally coloured foods also ensures that we consume phytochemicals. These are found in the skin, leaves, pips and peel of fruit and vegetables, and are often responsible for the bright colours. Eating an array of these has been found to:

  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Lower the risk for certain cancers
  • Help ward off type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Prevent some eye diseases
  • Maintain urinary tract health
  • Maintain heart health
  • Improve memory
  • Help build strong bones and teeth.

How to eat a rainbow diet - the colours, where to get them and what they'll do for you

There are five different colour groups for you to consider, providing plenty of different options for your plate.

When looking for red foods, you can include red grapes, red apples, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, pink or red grapefruit, tomatoes, radishes, radicchio, red peppers, red onions and cranberries. The phytochemicals in this group are thought to be useful for maintaining a healthy heart, good memory, urinary function and can also reduce cancer risks.

Blue and purple foods include blackberries, raisins, blueberries, plums, purple grapes, eggplant and purple cabbage and purple figs. These contain flavonoids, which block inflammation-causing enzymes, which can in turn reduce the risk of cancer. In addition, the resveratrol found in red grapes is also thought to improve cardiovascular health. This is especially true in areas of France where diets contain a lot of saturated fat, yet drinking light amounts of red wine can help keep the risk of cardiovascular disease down.

White foods include potatoes, white peaches, bananas, white nectarines, garlic, cauliflower, mushrooms, and onions. This group can reduce the risk of heart problems and cancer, while also maintaining good blood pressure.

When looking for green foods, you can consider kiwi, green grapes, green apples, honeydew melon, avocado, broccoli, spinach, okra, artichoke, courgettes, lettuce, celery, and asparagus. The phytochemicals found in this group can help protect our sight by limiting the damage caused to our eyes by light-induced oxidative damage.

The final group is yellow/orange foods. These include apricots, grapefruit, lemons, yellow apples, cantaloupe, oranges, peaches, nectarines, mangoes, pineapple, yellow peppers, pumpkin, sweet corn, yellow tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. This group contains high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants and is believed to reduce cancer risk and increase the health of the heart, while helping to strengthen both our vision and our immune systems.

Reference

1. What colour is your food? Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, LRD; North Dakota State University