We’re often told that we should be ‘eating the rainbow’, but what does that actually mean? And, is it really that important? Health editor Tracey Raye discusses why eating the rainbow might be the best thing you’ll ever do for your health.
We know that fruits and vegetables are healthy foods that we should probably all include in our diet more often, but did you know that variety is also important? Plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contain compounds called ‘phytonutrients’ that contribute to their rich, beautiful colour, as well as their distinct flavours and scents.
Different foods contain varying quantities of a whole range of phytonutrients, which is why we have such distinct and diverse spectrums of colour among fresh foods. While some fruits and vegetables are a source of more than one phytonutrient, others have small quantities.
Numerous studies demonstrate the multiple benefits of colourful phytonutrients, including working as antioxidants and reducing inflammation. Simply choosing to eat a balanced and varied diet which includes a variety of colours is the best way to ensure that we’re receiving the full spectrum of these vital nutrients.
Which foods contain phytonutrients?
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans, peas and lentils
- Herbs and spices
There are literally thousands of phytonutrients found in plant foods, each with a variety of unique qualities and benefits. For example:
- Red: contain antioxidants such as lycopene (in tomatoes), anthocyanins (red berries), ellagic acid (strawberries, raspberries) and astaxanthin (salmon, prawns).
- Orange: contain beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body, where it supports eye health and helps to make hormones.
- Blue: contain powerful antioxidants called Anthocyanins, which may have a role in protecting cells from damage.
- Green: rich in the pigment ‘chlorophyll’ and provide a variety of nutrients. Lutein and zeaxanthin rich vegetables such as kale and spinach may be beneficial in preventing and slowing the progression of an eye disease, age-related macular degeneration.
- White: rich in Anthoxanthins which may have a role in supporting heart health.
Remember, even within one colour group, foods will have varying levels of phytonutrients, so it’s still important to seek variety. Some of my favourites:
- Red: apples, tomatoes, cherries, pomegranate, watermelon, raspberries
- Orange: melon, carrots, peaches, sweet potato, banana, pineapple
- Blue: blueberries, grapes, aubergine, red onion, blackberries, beetroot
- Green: broccoli, cabbage, kale, spinach, kiwi, avocado, cucumber, pak choi
- White: cauliflower, garlic, white beans, white onions, mushrooms
Get inspired to bring more colour into your diet with our collection of nourishing colourful recipes.