As a child, you might have been told repeatedly to eat your vegetables, and that remains to be great advice. However, the focus shouldn’t be just on eating your veggies, but also eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables every day. While a plate full of bland or soggy greens doesn’t always look or sound very appetizing, piling your plate with the rainbow of colors that garden fresh summer produce offers is a satisfying, and beautifully healthy alternative.
“Eating the rainbow” is a term used to serve as a guideline for eating a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables every day. Why is it so important to eat a rainbow every day? Each color group of fruits and vegetables offers something unique in terms of nutritive value, and flavor. Most of us get tired of eating the same thing all the time, so making a point of adding colorful variety to your plate is one way to ensure that you don’t get sidetracked by boredom in your healthy eating efforts.
The pigments found in fresh fruits and vegetables that produce such luscious colors are also responsible for providing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Antioxidants are important agents in combating chronic disease and premature aging. They are an essential element when it comes to feeling and looking your best. There are three main pigments responsible for the rainbow coming from your garden this year. They are carotenoids, anthocyanins, and chlorophyll.
Carotenoids: Red, Orange and Yellow
Carotenoids, including beta carotene, provide the orange and yellow colors associated with carrots, yellow bell peppers, apricots, sweet potatoes, mangoes and squash. Carotenoids are a type of phytonutrient that can be found in the cells walls of some plants. They play an important role in photosynthesis and are high in antioxidants, including vitamin A. In addition to protecting you from serious health issues such as metabolic syndrome, or even cancer, vitamin A has been shown to act as a natural, sunscreen. One study showed that people who took vitamin A supplements, or whose diets were naturally high in carotenoids, especially beta carotene, showed overall lower rates of sunburn compared to others in the same risk group.
Also in the carotenoid family is lycopene, the pigment that is responsible for the bright reddish pink color of foods such tomatoes, red carrots, watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya and guava. Lycopene has shown itself to be one of the most powerful antioxidants, and is well known for helping to prevent the cellular damage that leads to prostate cancer. Lycopene is also great at reducing the damaging effects caused by the overuse of pesticides in the commercial produce supply. You might not be able to always eat organic and pesticide free, but a little lycopene in your diet could possibly offset the damage. Lycopene has also been shown to slow the progression and reduce the effects of macular degeneration, which means you will be able to see and enjoy all the colors of your summer garden for years to come.
Chlorophyll: Shades of Green
When you hear the word “chlorophyll”, you might instantly flash back to your high school biology class. Chlorophyll is the pigment found in green plants that absorbs sunlight and uses the energy to synthesize carbon dioxide and water, a process also known as photosynthesis. What you might not have learned in biology class is that chlorophyll is not only necessary in nature, but it is also important for keeping our bodies strong and healthy. Chlorophyll is an anti-inflammatory that calms systemic inflammation and promotes healing. It is also thought to suppress the appetite and control cravings. What’s more is that if you do succumb to your craving for a basket of fries, chlorophyll-rich foods can counter the oxidative damage from the free radicals produced when you eat fried foods. Don’t hesitate to order a large, green salad along with your next fried food indulgence. The benefits of chlorophyll are becoming so widely recognized that the use of chlorophyll supplementation is become quite popular. However, there is no reason to reach for a supplement when you have such an abundance of chlorophyll-rich foods available to you during the summer months. To get more chlorophyll in your diet, choose rich, dark greens such as spinach, kale and assorted greens. If it is green and grows in the sun, it is packed with chlorophyll. Other good sources of chlorophyll including broccoli, asparagus, seaweed, brussels sprouts, green peppers, green beans, green apples and fresh herbs.
Anthocyanins: Blue, Indigo and Purple
You probably already know that blueberries are considered an antioxidant-rich superfood, but do you know what is behind their high ranking nutritional status? The answer is anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are the pigment found in blueberries that give them their deep purplish color. You can also find anthocyanins in foods like eggplant, blackberries, red onions, black raspberries, black currents, beets, red cabbage and grapes including concord and red grapes (and the delicious, red fermented drink made with these grapes).
Of the foods that rank highest on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capability) chart, which measures the antioxidant value of foods, most of them contain anthocyanins. Eating a diet rich in foods from this end of the color spectrum will help keep you mentally sharp. Research shows that getting a good daily dose of anthocyanins can delay cognitive decline and slow mental aging by more than two years. Also, anthocyanins have been looked at for their potential of helping to repair the liver as they help the body to detox naturally. Add this to the fact that anthocyanins have been shown to be effective at reducing the cellular damage that leads to just about every type of cancer and you can see why adding a little purple and blue to your diet is a smart, healthy move.
Eating a rainbow of colors pretty much guarantees that you are getting a healthy variety of nutrients. If you have been struggling with just trying to eat a balanced diet and the idea of now trying to add each color in every day as well seems a little overwhelming, relax, it really isn’t that hard. Eating wholesomely and naturally is the first step to a healthy, colorful diet. If you regularly choose natural foods over processed foods, chances are you are already eating the rainbow without even thinking about it. Getting this type of variety is quite easy. Here are some tips for brightening your diet with a rainbow of foods.
- Start off with a colorful morning. Smoothies make for a great, quick and nutritious breakfast. Throw some fresh or frozen fruit such as berries, mango, or banana into a blender with some of your other favorite smoothie ingredients and go. You can add even more color with a little spinach or wheatgrass. If smoothies aren’t your thing, add some berries to your cereal or a handful of fresh arugula and a slice of tomato to your breakfast sandwich.
- Use your midday meal as a chance to refuel. Protein is important, especially during this point of the day when your energy begins to lag. You can boost the power of protein by pairing it with a large salad that contains a variety of colors. Start with a base of your favorite greens and then don’t be shy when it comes to piling on the veggies, or even fruits. A green salad with chicken, strawberries and blueberries is delicious and colorful. Just remember to go light on ingredients that might be high in saturated fats such as salad dressing or cheese.
- If you are packing a lunch for your kids, or even yourself, try adding a little of each color for the perfect “snack plate” lunch. Include some nuts or hardboiled egg to round it off for a nutritionally complete and satisfying meal.
- Don’t forget the power of herbs. A plate of green vegetables isn’t the only way to get your fill of chlorophyll. Use fresh herbs to dress all your dishes or make your own herby sauces such as pesto and chimichurri.
- Eating the rainbow begins by shopping with color in mind. Plan your meals based around a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Before you head out, check to make sure you have every color of produce represented on your shopping list. If you happen to be grocery shopping with little people in tow, give them a picture of a rainbow or the color spectrum and have them mark off each one as it enters your basket. Make of game of seeing which color you purchase the most of and ask them for suggestions of adding more of the other colors to their diets.
- Keep fresh fruit and vegetables easily accessible for snacks. This might mean having a bowl of prewashed fruit on your counter, or precutting fruits and vegetables, and placing them so that they are the first thing that you see when you open the refrigerator. You are more likely to reach for a healthy snack if it requires no work or preparation. Making sure that produce is prewashed and cut, if necessary, is one way to make it more likely that you will reach for something healthy, rather than the bag of artificially colored, high fructose syrup-laden gummy bears to get your daily rainbow of colors.
- Include at least two portions of fresh fruits and vegetables with each meal and include different colors each time.
- Consider new ways to prepare fresh produce. You might not like the texture of raw broccoli and dislike the way it tastes when it is steamed even more. Rather than shun broccoli altogether, why not try different ways of preparing it. It is my opinion that just about every vegetable tastes better when it is roasted with a touch of olive oil. You might also like broccoli chopped up in your favorite go-to baked dish. If the texture of blackberries displeases you, add them to a smoothie or make a blackberry compote to serve over pancakes or frozen yogurt. There is more than just one or two ways of enjoying every vegetable or fruit.
- When you go out to eat, part of the experience is the presentation of the food. Restaurants strive to make your plates attractive because they know that it adds to the pleasure you receive when you eat it. Why not give yourself the gift of a beautiful plate of food at home as well? Treat cooking and plating your food as though you are creating a work of art. Use colors that will “pop” and make your dish more visually appealing or add a colorful side dish to an otherwise bland looking meal.
It is rumored that at the end of every rainbow is a pot of gold. While eating a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables every day will probably not bring your monetary riches, it will add richness in terms of your physical health, your mental energy and the quality of your life. Summer is the perfect time to enjoy all the garden-fresh produce, bursting with color and flavor. Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy the beautiful rainbow of colors that the season offers.