For most of us, shopping for groceries is a routine part of our daily life.
Often, we become creatures of habit, purchasing the same foods, in the same quantities, over and over again. Through no design of our own, our diets can grow uninspired and stale, opting for mindless convenience over a rotating selection of flavors and nutrients.
This style of purchasing food can be exceptionally limiting, nutritionally when it comes to our produce. A healthy, varied selection of produce is a critical part of a well-rounded and successful diet, but many of us avoid the fruits and veggies we consider “out of our comfort zone.”
One way to transcend our bland diets and infuse our life with splashes of color and essential doses of vitamins and minerals is to “Eat The Rainbow” -- which can be as fun as it sounds!
To help you understand the health and taste boosts you can receive from eating the rainbow, let’s dive into phytochemicals and how a balanced, colorful mix of fruits and veggies can be your first step to an exciting, flavorful diet:
Have you ever wondered how plants get their color?
The answer is phytochemicals, which are plant nutrients that give their host its color, taste and smell.
These chemicals can vary slightly or dramatically between different fruits and veggies -- e.g., broccoli and Brussels sprouts look pretty similar, but neither resembles a pumpkin or squash. Similarly, fresh lemons are famous for their tart juices, while a hot pepper gets your attention with its hefty spice.
As there are over 5,000 different phytochemicals in nature, every fruit and veggie has a unique nutrient makeup that allows them to benefit your health in different ways.
To understand the positive influence different plants and veggies can have on your diet, let’s break down four of the primary phytochemicals: polyphenols, resveratrol, flavonoids and carotenoids.
Often considered the primary phytochemical, polyphenols are nutrients from plants that can positively influence human health in a number of different ways.
Found in fruits, vegetables and dietary supplements, these compounds can promote healthy reactions and processes in our body, including:
Furthermore, some research also suggests that a diet rich in polyphenols can reduce inflammation, support enhanced brain function and serve as a defense against some forms of cancer.
Examples: flavonoids (discussed below), resveratrol (discussed below), polyphenolic amides, curcuminoids, isoflavone, EGCG
Famous for its health-boosting presence in red wine, resveratrol is a phytochemical with multiple potential health-boosting powers.
Typically found in the skins and seeds of plants, resveratrol acts as a free-radical blocking antioxidant that can provide several health benefits (if consumed in high quantities):
While one must consume resveratrol in larger amounts to see effects on the scale of other phytochemicals, researchers suggest this nutrient can positively influence most people.
No major study has found any risk from resveratrol consumption, and it typically resides in fruits and veggies that also provide an abundance of other health benefits.
Note: Unlike other phytochemicals, researchers do not break down resveratrol into different families of nutrients. Instead, it’s identified as either of its chemical structures: “trans-resveratrol” or “cis-resveratrol.”
In addition to carotenoids, flavonoids are primarily responsible for the bright and brilliant colors of fruits and vegetables.
With more than 6,000 varieties, flavonoids are the largest group of phytochemicals and can be responsible for a number of plant-related health benefits such as:
While flavonoids are an increasingly popular topic of nutritional study, current research suggests they can also potentially contribute to a reduced risk of cancer and a lesser chance of developing cardiovascular or neurological disease.
Examples: anthocyanin, flavones, flavonols, quercetin
Besides contributing to the beautiful pigments and hues of fruits and veggies, carotenoids provide a number of essential health benefits.
Serving as a form of antioxidant, the more than 600 kinds of carotenoids can provide several health benefits, including:
Some carotenoids (particularly beta carotenoids) are also converted into vitamin A upon consumption, meaning they can play a positive role in bone health, physical growth and healthy immune function.
Examples: alpha carotenoids, beta carotenoids, lycopene, zeaxanthin, lutein
Now that we know more about a few essential phytochemicals, it's time to dive headfirst into the rainbow!
We’ll break down critical fruits and veggies by color and nutrient content, so you’ll be on your way to crafting a colorful, flavorful and nutritious array of produce:
Red and pink fruits and veggies can provide a multitude of health benefits, including:
These foods are often an excellent source of carotenoids, such as lycopene, and flavonoids, such as anthocyanin.
Delicious Examples: pomegranates, beets, cranberries, cherries, red bell peppers, tomatoes
Many people associate orange and yellow fruits and veggies with autumn, but these nutrient-packed foods are beneficial year-round. They can promote:
These foods can be an excellent source of multiple phytochemicals, including carotenoids, like beta carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein, and polyphenols, like curcuminoids.
Delicious Examples: carrots, mangoes, oranges, bananas, lemons, squash
Arguably the supreme color of the food rainbow, green fruits and veggies are diverse in their flavor and potential health benefits:
Thankfully, the diverse range of green superfoods reflects in the number of phytochemicals they contain. Green fruits and veggies often include polyphenols, like isoflavone, carotenoids, like zeaxanthin, and flavonoids, like flavonol.
Delicious Examples: kale, asparagus, avocados, lime, broccoli, zucchini
Often among the most flavorful and exotic of foods, blue and purple fruits and veggies can enhance our bodily function in multiple ways, including:
While blue and purple superfoods are among the most rare, the options you do have are flavorful and packed with phytochemicals. These foods most often include flavonoids, like anthocyanin, which are responsible for their beautiful hues of blue and purple, as well as resveratrol.
Delicious Examples: blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, purple cauliflower, plums, black currants
While tan and white fruits and vegetables may appear blander than their more exotic relatives, they are nonetheless a source of potential health benefits like:
These foods contain beneficial amounts of flavonoids, like quercetin, and polyphenols, like EGCG, which contribute to their health boosting powers.
Delicious Examples: apples, cauliflower, coconut, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, onions.
One of the simplest ways to ensure your body gets all of the nutrients it needs is to eat vegetables and fruits from the full spectrum of colors. Nature has its own “color-coding” system, with different compounds creating different hues in our foods, so take full advantage and follow the produce rainbow.