When we talk about nutrition there are two main areas we emphasize, quantity and quality. While quantity is important when it comes to make sure we get enough food and aren’t overeating, it’s also just as important to focus on eating a variety of foods. What happens when we make our foods as “constantly varied” as our workouts, is we get an abundance of different nutrients, all contributing to our overall health and wellness. Different colored foods, in particular, have a different chemical makeup, providing us with a number of essential nutrients. If we focus on eating all of the colors of the rainbow, we will be ingesting multiple vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that can boost our overall health and protect against illnesses.
Phytonutrients are components in plants that are not essential for us to consume in order to survive, but they can certainly help prevent disease and support optimal functioning inside our bodies. Antioxidants are a type of phytonutrient that help slow and prevent damage to our cells from toxins and free radicals. Different colored plants provide different types of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Therefore, opting to explore outside our “20-or-so” go-to foods, can provide huge health gains.
Red plants like tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon are high in the antioxidant lycopene that helps protect the body against oxidative stress. Orange and yellow plants like carrots, mango, cantelope, pumpkin, pineapple, papaya, and nectarines contain carotenoids like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptothanxin which can be converted into vitamin A. These carotenoids support healthy immune function and vision. Yellow plants also contain bioflavonoids that work synergistically with vitamin C to support our skin and circulatory health. Green plants contain chlorophyll which is known for its detoxifying and healing properties as well as warding off cancer and carcinogens. Dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens, spinach and turnip greens are also high in calcium. Finally, the flavonoids anthocyanin and quercetin are found in red and purple plants such as apples, peppers, berries, red grapes and tart cherries. These powerful antioxidants help limit damage to cells from carcinogens and free radicals, and can help lower our risk for heart disease, cancer and more.
An easy way to start changing up our fruit and vegetable choices is to eat seasonally. Lucky for us, spring is here and that means it will be quite easy to stumble upon a vast variety of locally grown, nutrient dense, colorful plants! When grocery shopping, we can try swapping out white cauliflower for the orange or purple varieties. Or instead of the “conventional” varieties we can look for purple sweet potatoes, golden beets, watermelon radish or rainbow carrots! Many plants come in different varieties and the best way to get in more colors is by seeking them out. Local farmers markets are another way to discover new colorful and delicious plants, with great resources to tell you all about their flavor profiles, and some ways to enjoy them! However we obtain our plant foods, let’s explore new options and capitalize on the health benefits of eating an assortment of colorful plants!
Source: The Rainbow Diet by Dr. Deanna Minich, PHD.