Tara Tomaino, RD
T&B Nutrition Director
If you’ve ever met with a registered dietitian and heard them suggest “eating the rainbow”; they weren’t referring to Skittles! In terms of nutrition and eating a balanced diet, it means eating a variety of different colored vegetables and fruits. Produce of different colors provide the body with different types of nutrients so it’s important to consume as many of these as possible. It is also beneficial for our gut bacteria to consume a variety of high-fiber plant foods.
Red – tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon, strawberries, pomegranate, cherries
Lycopene is an antioxidant in the carotenoid family that is responsible for giving red vegetables and fruit their color. The antioxidant properties of lycopene can help protect against oxidative damage which has been associated with chronic disease risk (certain cancers, cardiovascular disease). Studies have also shown lycopene to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure.
Green – broccoli, bok choy, leafy greens, green beans, avocado, kiwi, honeydew melon
Leafy green vegetables are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, while vegetables like broccoli and bok choy contain many B-vitamins. Worth noting is the B-vitamin folate which is present in many green vegetables. Folate promotes heart health, plays a role in the prevention of certain birth defects, and is necessary for the repair of DNA.
Blue/Purple – eggplant, purple carrots, blueberries, blackberries, grapes
The blue/purple color of these vegetables and fruit is due to their anthocyanin content. Typically, the darker the color, the higher the concentration of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a class of antioxidants that have been shown to support heart health and blood pressure, prevent the formation of clots, and lower the risk of certain cancers.
Strive for five! Adults should strive to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits per day. Ideally this looks like at least 3 servings of vegetables and at least 2 servings of fruit daily. One serving of produce is equal to about 1 cup or 1 medium vegetable/fruit. While you plan your grocery list, try to get a different colored vegetables and fruit to eat throughout the week. Don’t stress about eating every color each day but try to get some variety throughout the week. As an example, for one week you might buy a bunch of bananas (yellow), a package of strawberries (red), and a handful of kiwis (green). Getting into the habit of having a mixed green salad with dinner can be a great way to include a lot of colors too.
Working on eating the rainbow can also be a fun way to get kids more involved in the kitchen! Let them pick out their favorite green food from the produce department. Kids are more likely to try foods or be interested in eating when they’ve played some role in the preparation of the meal or snack.