By Rachel Welch
Eat the rainbow, taste the rainbow. . . I’m not talking about skittles. I’m talking about the natural, wholesome, nutrient-packed rainbow of healthy fruits and vegetables.
Don’t you just love a colorful meal? The chance to eat with your eyes before actually taking a bite is almost one of the best parts of dining! Not only does a colorful plate provide visual appeal and excitement, it also provides valuable nutritional benefits to your body and mind. Let’s explore why a palette of the rainbow is so beneficial!
There are tons of colorful foods in the world, and many of the most striking foods are created by nature. Fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs are all natural and often visually beautiful as well. Of course, there are other sorts of colorful foods that are not as healthy, where the colors result from processed food dyes and additives (yuck). For our purposes, we will focus on only the healthy, colorful foods! First of all, where do the colors come from in our foods?
Our fruits and vegetables get their various colors from phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural compounds which give fruits and veggies their lovely colors, and also provide healthy benefits! A helpful fact to remember is that the more colorful a (natural) food is, the healthier it is for you. This is proven by many colorful foods also containing the best amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants (1).
One such food that all of you have likely eaten, is an apple. There are many different varieties of apples that come with different flavors, from different places, and with different colors. But, do you know where the color comes from, and what determines which color a particular apple will receive?
The most common apple colors are green, red, and yellow, and there are certain chemicals to credit, for assigning these various colors.
Green apples contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in many plants, and is to thank for the green luster of apples like granny smith! Interestingly, the chlorophyll in green apples is also present in other apple varieties, but with a few changes that lead to varying colors.
Anthocyanin is another natural pigment, like chlorophyll, but this one creates a red color. Red apples start out with chlorophyll, but break it down and start to produce a second pigment. This is where anthocyanin comes in. Anthocyanin causes the switch from the green, to the resulting red of many apple-fan-favorites!
Yellow apples also start out with chlorophyll. The difference here is that when the chlorophyll breaks down, it creates carotenoid pigments. Carotenoid pigments lead to the golds and yellows that we see with many apples (2).
So, how are we doing as a society, with consumption of colorful foods? Apparently, there is room for improvement.
The Rainbow Palette and the Room for Improvement
With the knowledge of colorful foods being the best for us, you would think that we have it under control, right? One could assume that we, as a society, are on top of nutrition considering nature has done us the service of literally color-coding what we should eat!
Alas, many people are deficient in one or more of our colorful foods, and with that, are lacking their valuable nutrients. A study completed in 2009 dove into exploration of phytonutrients and compared various nutrition surveys. They discovered the following:
Education is key, so let’s explore how we can remedy this, with the use of the rainbow!
Rainbow Palette: The More Colorful, the Better!
When you plan out your meals, your plate, or your snacks, aim for a creative and artistic approach, where no color is left ignored! Now, this does not include the toxic orange of processed chips, or the frightening green of food coloring. When you plan colorful meals, make sure those colors are natural! As it turns out, certain colors can generally be trusted to help with certain things.
When you see red food, think of a red heart! That’s right, natural red foods are known for their heart-healthy properties and benefits. Many red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene and ellagic acid, which are known to have cancer-fighting effects.
Certain red vegetables like beets help blood vessels dilate, which helps blood flow and can reduce the chances of heart disease. Yet another perk of red foods is that their polyphenols and antioxidants may help protect against damage from sunlight, helping to reduce the chances of skin cancer or inflammation.
Orange and Yellow
I’ve grouped these two together, because many of our natural orange and yellow food friends are somewhat interchangeable between the two colors. Whether they lean more orange or yellow, these foods are known for containing another series of beneficial ingredients!
Vitamin C, beta carotene (vitamin A), and hesperidin are commonly found in foods like oranges, bananas, papayas, mangos, etc. These all serve a different purpose, and contribute to proper circulation, eye/vision health, and skin health.
From green smoothies, to leafy green salads and beyond, green foods are one of the most nutrient-packed options! Stronger immunity, better mental health, and overall healing all come from the gifts of our green fruits and vegetables. Green foods contain lutein, isothiocyanates, isoflavones, and vitamin K, which all contribute to blood and bone health.
Even eating just one kiwi fruit has been shown to help with the common cold, IBS symptoms, insomnia, and even the repair of DNA damage. Wow!
Blue and Purple
Blue and purple foods are on a similar track as the red foods, with common benefits to heart health. These foods specifically, have been well-studied for their apparent anticancer and anti aging properties. Many of the chemicals in berries, for instance, repair damage from stress and inflammation. Meanwhile, the chemicals in blueberries and red grapes can help reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and can support a healthy weight and normal inflammatory response (3).
Brown and White
We are not going to leave out the natural earthy colors of our rainbow palette! Brown and white foods also have nutritious value, even if their colors are not quite as extraordinary. A memory association trick for this category is to think of white foods, and bones. Many of the natural white foods out there protect bone health, protect against cancers, and benefit heart health (3).
White vegetables like cauliflower are cruciferous, meaning they are high in healthy fiber which helps digestive health. The allium family, which contains garlic and onions is also a healthy group with anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and anti-allergic powers. Then, onto a truly amazing food - mushrooms! Mushrooms are a particularly unique food.
Mushrooms provide antimicrobial activity, and are one of the few foods to maintain their nutrient-levels when cooked! Many natural foods lose some of their nutrients through the cooking process, but mushrooms hold onto that treasure, especially when microwaved, or grilled (4).
A couple of popular mushrooms these days are chaga and lion's mane mushrooms. These two have (in recent years) been touted as immunity-boosting, cognition-preserving, and essentially miraculous little fungi friends. Chaga, for example, is now being used as a coffee alternative in many coffee shops, as it has a natural energetic effect that is less addictive than caffeine (5). It also tastes pretty similar to coffee, when prepared correctly.
Mushrooms are just one example of the numerous healthy options from our palette of colorful, natural foods.
Will You Taste the Rainbow (of Natural Foods)?
So, with this newfound rainbow food education, what are you going to prepare this week? A fancy salad, a veggie-packed pasta, or perhaps a fruit-based dessert? Thankfully, there are tons of creative (and colorful) recipe options online to help get you started. In the meantime, here are some ideas to help!
Organic Vs. Non-Organic
A common topic that arises with talk of fruits and vegetables is the organic versus non-organic debate. Research shows us that organic food is less likely to contain harmful chemicals than more commercially produced options, and this has been fuel for many people to shop for exclusively organic produce! However, that organic status often comes with a hefty price tag, and not everyone has the budget to afford such a change. So, is it worth it to buy the normal, non-organic produce, and risk the chemicals?
The short answer is yes, it is worth buying the normal produce. Overall, the benefit of natural, whole foods and their nutrition outweighs the risk of chemicals which are present during the non-organic growing process. This means that even if you don’t have an organic-level budget, you absolutely can and should shop for healthy, natural foods. Organic foods contain the same amount of nutrients as their non-organic neighbors, meaning that the growing process does not impact the nutritious benefit (6).
If you can afford to switch to organic, then by all means, go for it! But if you can’t, rest assured, the nutrition of your colorful food will not be compromised. It is worth shopping for produce of either variety, to gain nutritional value!
Rainbow Palette Recap
The healthiest meal is a colorful meal, and nature makes it so easy to make nutritious choices! Remember, just like nature has shown us, you can color-code your food, and gain healthy benefits accordingly.
Orange/Yellow: Eyes and Skin
Green: Immunity and DNA
Brown/White: Brain and Bones
Great nutrition from whole, natural, colorful foods is completely attainable! Plus, it can be fun and tasty. Even if you have a modest budget, it is possible to choose healthy foods. Hopefully you now feel better-equipped to visit the produce section of your grocery store, and make healthy choices. Remember, when it comes to your rainbow palette, the more colorful, the better!
Hopefully you can take charge and bring nutrition into your life! If, however, you find that you need some supplemental help, Health by Principle has you covered. We provide high-quality and natural supplements with just what you need, and none of what you don’t. Feel free to browse our selection of migraine-prevention tips, additional blog content, and available supplements. (Always consult a physician before beginning any new dietary change or supplement).
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