eating the rainbow

“Eat the Rainbow.” We’ve heard the expression our entire lives – most of us from the Skittles commercial (and boy did I eat that rainbow growing up…). But, commercialized sugary candy aside, what does this expression really mean? Does the color of our food really make a difference?

Answer: YES! The color of your food (and by food I mean plants, not candy) determines what types of nutrients you will receive from it. The nutrients found in the various colors of food are called phytonutrients.

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What are phytonutrients?

Simply put, the word”phytonutrient” translates to “plant nutrients.” They are substances (not vitamins or minerals) in plants that provide specific health benefits. It doesn’t just include the various colors, but also the smells and tastes. It is the basis for any experience of food. I love the deep rich color of beets – therefore, I love the phytonutrients of beets.

Why do we care about phytonutrients?

Because of phytonutrients, each color of plant benefits our bodies in its own way. Below I am going to outline the major colors, the phytonutrients they contain, and some examples. And I’ll go in the rainbow order, obviously…ROY G BIV anyone?

RED
Phytonutrients: lycopene, carotenoids, quercetin, hesperidin
Benefits: heart health, reduces risk of prostate cancer, lowers blood pressure, memory function, supports joint tissue in cases of arthritis
Found in: beets, cherries, tomatoes, cranberries, red beans, watermelon

ORANGE
Phytonutrients: beta-carotene, flavenoids, zeaxanthin, lycopene
Benefits: maintains heart, vision and immune system health, reduces muscular degeneration (age related), reduces risk of prostate cancer, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, promotes collagen formation and healthy joints, repairs damaged DNA
Found in: apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, oranges, orange peppers, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins

YELLOW
Phytonutrients: beta-cryptothanxin, lutein, zeaxanthin
Benefits: supports intercellular communication, prevents heart disease, reduces risk of cataracts, reduces muscular degeneration
Found in: yellow peppers, pineapple, lemons, yellow pears, yellow beets, yellow squash

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GREEN
Phytonutrients: chlorophyll, lutein, zeaxanthin
Benefits: keeps blood cells, teeth and bones strong, lowers risk of some cancers (inhibits the action of carcinogens)
Found in: zucchini, lettuce, green beans, broccoli, artichokes, avocados, asparagus, cucumbers, green peppers, kale, kiwi, celery, spinach, green onions

BLUE/PURPLE/BLACK
Phytonutrients: anthocyanins, flavenoids, phenolics
Benefits: powerful antioxidants; reduce risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and alzheimers, improve memory, promotes healthy aging, improves urinary tract health
Found in: blueberries, blackberries, grapes, purple cabbage, eggplant, purple sweet potatoes, black beans, elderberries

WHITE/TAN/BROWN
Phytonutrients: beta-clucans, EGCG, SDG, flavenoids, alicoln
Benefits: maintains heart health, supports immune system, balances hormone levels, lowers risk of cancer
Found in: cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, bananas, garlic, black eyed peas, northern beans, chickpeas, white carrots, nuts

TIPS

Something I like to tell my clients who aren’t eating enough vegetables (or enough of a variance) is to try and include at least 2 different colors in each meal. Once you start paying more attention to the colors on your plate, it can be fun to try and change it up, which is good for both your mental and physical health!