Eating the rainbow has been a popular health concept since the early 2000s when a group of doctors wrote the book, “How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine.” The doctors advocated a diet rich in plant-based, colorful foods that they called “The Rainbow Diet.” Their plan has grown in popularity through the years as research has confirmed that eating a variety of colorful produce in place of other, less-healthy foods can prevent the onset of all sorts of diseases and ailments, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and certain types of cancer. The colors of the product indicate which phytonutrients the plant contains.
Red produce like raspberries, red bell peppers, and cherries get their red coloring from a plant pigment called anthocyanin or the carotenoid hydrocarbon lycopene.
Anthocyanins in red fruits and vegetables have been shown to fight off free radicals and may protect the body against inflammation, cancer, and certain viruses. Similarly, lycopene is an incredibly powerful antioxidant that’s healthy for your brain, heart, and eyes. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a correlation between foods high in lycopene ― particularly tomato sauce ― and a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men. Further research has found that lycopene-rich foods help fight breast cancer and renal cell carcinoma.
Red fruits and vegetables are excellent for fighting off diseases and bolstering the body’s immune system.
Orange and Yellow Produce
Orange and yellow produce is generally high in vitamin C and carotenoids. Carotenoids are phytonutrients that act as antioxidants in the body. They are excellent for shutting down free radicals, strengthening the immune system and bolstering the body’s immune system. Also, in an article titled “Orange Is the New Pink,” registered dietician Susan Levin wrote, “Women who consume the most orange vegetables, which are rich in carotenoids, lower their risk of breast cancer by 19 percent.”
Our bodies do not produce carotenoids on their own. We have to consume them in the diet. They’re fat-soluble so to be used by the body, we must eat our carotenoid-rich foods along with fat. That means dipping those baby carrots into some creamy Mediterranean-style hummus or eating orange segments with a bit of real whipped cream.
Blue, Purple, and Black Produce
Blue, purple and black produce like blueberries, purple cauliflower, and black grapes also get their deep coloring from anthocyanins. Aside from the benefits mentioned above of anthocyanins, these powerful flavonoids are also fantastic for brain health. A study in The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias found that older adults who ate more anthocyanin-rich berries had a significant reduction in cognitive decline.
Green fruits and vegetables contain potent pigment chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a particularly wonderful phytonutrient. It helps to purify your liver, build up strong red blood cells, improve blood sugar levels and deodorize the body. Chlorophyll can also help reduce hunger and relieve pain from inflammation.
Cruciferous produce in the green category like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green cabbage, and bok choy also contains indoles. Indoles are compounds that may help the body fight off cancer cells. A clinical trial with a small group of women who had early-stage cervical cancer showed promising results. For 12 weeks, more than half of the women treated with indoles had complete regression of their cancer symptoms while none of the women who were given a placebo had any regression. It was a small study, with only around 30 participants, but it’s encouraging, and it shows just how powerful and beneficial green vegetables are.
White and Brown Produce
The brighter-colored fruits and vegetables often get all of the attention when we consider the health benefits. We know that white and brown are not the colors of the rainbow. Just humor us here. We’re including them in our food rainbow.
Ever heard the myth that iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value? Yeah, that’s not true at all. Researchers have found that iceberg lettuce contains a compound called apigenin. Celery also contains it. It has been found that apigenin can prevent cancer growth and possibly kill cancer cells. Apigenin has also been shown to improve neurological functioning.
Other white and brown fruits and vegetables are incredibly healthy for you too. Many of the items in this pale produce category contain anthoxanthin, which is an antioxidant pigment. Anthoxanthins are hardcore cancer fighters. They’ve also been shown to reduce the risk of stroke and decrease inflammation.
Many varieties of white and brown fruits and vegetables also contain quercetin and allicin. These phytonutrients can help prevent allergies, fight off viruses and bacterial infections and reduce blood cholesterol.
White and brown produce is also often high in potassium.
|Red Produce||Cherries, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, pomegranate, cranberries, red grapes, red currants, red plums, blood oranges, and dragon fruit||Beets, red cabbage, red potatoes, rhubarb, tomatoes, radishes, and red bell peppers|
|Orange Produce||Oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, nectarines, tangerines, mangoes, kumquats and papaya||Carrots, orange bell peppers, sweet potatoes, yams, butternut squash, pumpkin, orange tomatoes, and turmeric root|
|Yellow Produce||Pineapple, yellow apples, lemons, canary melon, yellow pears, and rainier cherries||Butternut squash, corn, yellow tomatoes, summer squash, yellow bell peppers, banana peppers, yellow cauliflower, and golden beets|
|Blue/Purple/Black Produce||Blueberries, plums, purple grapes, blackberries, mulberries, figs, currants, dates and acai berry||Eggplant, purple bell peppers, black olives, red onions, purple cauliflower, and purple cabbage|
|Green Produce||Kiwi, green apples, pears, grapes and starfruit||Artichokes, olives, broccoli, kale, avocado, celery, green onions, green bell peppers, broccoflower, green tomatoes, tomatillos, jalapeno peppers, scallions, okra, snap peas, snow peas, peas, green beans, mustard greens, spinach, romaine leaves, zucchini, leeks, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, sprouts, edamame and chard|
|White/Brown Produce||Honeydew melon, banana, green papaya, Santa Claus melon, and coconut||Iceberg lettuce, potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, cauliflower, mushroom, parsnips, water chestnuts, jicama, daikon and ginger root|
Healthy Multicolored Recipes
- 2 cups organic rainbow chard
- 2 cups organic baby spinach
- 3 mandarin oranges, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup organic grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 organic yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1/4 cup sweet onion, diced
- 1/2 cup vinegar and oil salad dressing
Toss all of the salad greens together. Top with chopped oranges, halved grape tomatoes, diced yellow pepper and sweet onion. Add the dressing and combine all of the ingredients.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 4 stalks organic celery (including leaves), diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon organic rosemary, chopped
- 1 can organic tomato paste
- 4 cups organic vegetable stock
- 2 organic potatoes, chopped in ½-inch cubes
- 1 bag organic frozen vegetable blend (peas, carrots, corn, green beans)
- Salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
In a stockpot, heat the olive oil over a medium-low flame. Add in the diced red onion, diced celery, garlic and rosemary. Heat about five minutes or until the celery is somewhat tender. Add in the tomato paste and stir. Pour in the vegetable stock slowly while stirring. Add the cubed potatoes and allow the broth to cook them until tender. This will take 15 to 20 minutes. Once the potatoes are tender, add the vegetable blend. Stir them in the soup mixture until they’re heated through. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
- 2 slices whole-grain bread, lightly toasted
- 2 tablespoons natural peanut or almond butter
- 3 organic romaine leaves
- 1/2 organic sliced tomato
- 3 slices organic yellow bell pepper
- 1/2 organic apple, thinly sliced
- 2 thin slices organic red onion
Toast the bread and spread the nut butter on each slice. Top one slice with the lettuce, tomato, bell pepper, sliced apple, and red onion. Put the other slice of bread on top.
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1 cup organic frozen raspberries
- 1 cup of organic spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup frozen pineapple chunks
- 1 cup organic frozen blueberries
- 1 banana
Put all of the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. You may need to blend through a couple of cycles to pulverize the spinach leaves effectively.
Tips for Eating a More Colorful Diet
- Make vegetables the main dish. Let them cover at least half of your plate. Make meat and other food groups into side dishes.
- Eat produce with your breakfast.
- Have a salad every day.
- Challenge yourself to use all the colors at dinner.
- Portion out washed, chopped fruits and vegetables into small containers for on-the-go snacking.
- Keep washed fruit out on the countertop to eat between meals.
A Colorful and Tasty Way to Prevent Disease
An Ayurvedic proverb says, “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” Nature has provided us an extraordinary amount of nutrient-dense foods full of disease-fighting compounds. Fill your plate with all the colors of the rainbow for disease prevention.
Deepa Nair, C. (2009) Indole 3 carbinol, a novel approach to cancer treatment. Retrieved from: https://farmacists.blogspot.com/2009/05/indole-3-carbinol-novel-approach-to.html
Eating more berries may reduce cognitive decline in the elderly. (2012). Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22991706
Graff R. (2016). Dietary lycopene intake and risk of prostate cancer defined by ERG protein expression. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26817504
Sabin, B. (2016). Why iceberg lettuce is better for you than you think. Retrieved from: https://www.stack.com/a/is-iceberg-lettuce-good-for-you
Wong, C. (2019). The benefits of anthocyanins. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-scoop-on-anthocyanins-89522
Yance, D. (2015). The many health benefits of anthocyanin. Retrieved from: https://www.donnieyance.com/the-many-health-benefits-of-anthocyanins/