When I first graduated from school I used to joke with my friends that we needed to publish the next best-selling diet book. We were going to call it the Rainbow Diet, as in eat the colors of the rainbow. Not very original, I know. The idea of eating different colored plant-based foods has been around for a while but I have noticed recently that this simple idea is starting to catch on. All you have to do is search, "eating the rainbow".
So what is the benefit of eating different colored plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes? There is a multitude of naturally occurring organic compounds in plant foods known as phytochemicals. A subset of these phytochemicals are antioxidants that play an important role in protecting our body from oxidative stress, which can contribute to heart disease, cancer, degenerative eye disease and dementia. The individual chemical structures of antioxidants are what give these plant-based foods their colors. For instance lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes and watermelon reflects the color red and beta-carotene provides carrots with their orange color. Rather than remembering their complicated names and combinations, eat a variety of colors and you're covered.
Below is an incomplete list of the colors and foods associated with them.
Red: beets, red onions, red potatoes, tomatoes, radicchio, radishes, red bell peppers, pink or red grapefruit, blood oranges, rhubarb, strawberries, cherries, red plums, raspberries, watermelon, red apples, cranberries, red grapes, red pears, pomegranates, red chili pepper
Orange: carrots, sweet potatoes, orange bell peppers, orange squash (butternut, acorn), mango, navel and mandarin oranges, papayas, apricots, canteloupe (orange melons), nectarines, peaches, pumpkins
Yellow: yellow bell peppers, corn, yellow squash (spaghetti), yellow tomatoes, golden beets, rutabagas, grapefruit, lemons, pineapples, yellow apples, yellow pears
Green: artichokes, asparagus, green bell peppers, endive, green beans, lettuce, peas, spinach, watercress, arugula, cucumbers, okra, zucchini, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, brussel sprouts, green cabbage, endive, kale, leeks, swiss chard, celery, kiwi, limes, green pears, avocados, green grapes, honeydew melon, green chilies, parsley, cilantro, other green herbs
Blue: blueberries, blue plums, blue grapes
Purple: eggplant, purple-tipped Belgian endive, purple cabbage, purple carrots, prunes, black currants, figs, plums, figs, grapes, raisins, blackberries, dates
White/Tan: cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, jicama, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, turnips, white corn, kohlrabi, garlic, ginger, bananas
So my family goal for this week is to increase the variety of colors we are eating every day. I think we'll aim for 4-5 as 7 may be a bit ambitious to start with. I see a great deal of blueberries and eggplant in my near future. How many colors have you eaten today? By the way, yellow fast food french fries don't count.