Plants produce powerful phytonutrients that protect against inflammation and other chronic diseases. Phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, are chemicals that plants use to stay healthy, and protect themselves from potential insect attacks, while other forms of these chemicals can help protect the body from radiation-emitting UV rays. And when humans eat these phytonutrients through colorful produce, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and various spices, we are awarded essential nutrients, many of which contribute to reduced inflammation. Not only that, but by eating more colors, we make it easier to receive more vitamins and minerals, because here’s a secret: the nutrients are in the colors!
Fortunately, the phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables give our bodies the nutrients they need to function properly! Beyond adding texture and taste to our plates, foods grown above and below the ground serve us with a variety of health benefits, many of which correlate with their color. The daily recommended intake for produce is 2 ½ cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruit, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. When you stretch these numbers out across three meals a day, plus two potential snacks, this target becomes something that everyone can achieve. We recommend introducing the motto, “eat the rainbow” to help you visualize what colors you should be eating regularly, as each shade supplies its specific healthy rewards.
There are a few colors that basically serve as the “primary colors” in nature. Like on a color wheel we know that all of the various color shades derive from the three primary colors yellow, blue, and red; the same is seen in nature with foods. Green, red, and blue are usually the most potent pigments we find, and all three of these colors are packed with nutrients that support well-being. The chemical responsible for the green color that spreads from grass and trees to leaves and green vegetables is known as chlorophyll. What gives the blue and purple shades is called anthocyanin. And the third most common color responsible for the red we see in nature, along with their orange and yellow color descendants would be carotenoids.
To simplify these scientific terms, chlorophyll is known as nature’s blood and can have profound impacts on the quality of your blood, skin, and overall health. Anthocyanin gives the body tons of antioxidant properties that help keep the immune system high and fight off unwanted illnesses. Then we have carotenoids which contribute to growth, eye health, as well as a strong immune system. Thus by eating these colors, the body is getting infused with nutrients from several sources. This is absolutely ideal!
How to eat the colors of the rainbow
Red – Foods rich in rosy red hues contain the carotenoid called lycopene which protects against free radical damage. Free radicals are considered unstable atoms that cause cell damage resulting in aging and illnesses, as well as damaging fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins. When you eat foods like strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, cherries, and beets, for example, the body reaps the benefits of the powerful antioxidant lycopene that may help protect you against a range of health ailments from sunburns to Alzheimer’s. Additional red foods rich in lycopene include apples, red grapes, red peppers, tomatoes, and red onions.
Orange & Yellow – Rich in beta carotene, orange and yellow foods support eye health and a boosted immune system. Beta carotenes are also rich sources of antioxidants, which are crucial for fighting off diseases and keeping the immune system high. During flu season, when the immune system tends to be more vulnerable, be sure to snack on oranges, clementines, and tangerines for a quality dose of vitamin C. Another way to enjoy the benefits of these zesty citrus fruits is to squeeze the juice into water or ice trays! You’ll receive all of the immune-system boosting, antioxidant-rich properties, and stay hydrated throughout the year. And as your body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, a nutrient that contributes to night vision, incorporating more orange and yellow foods into your diet may also help improve your eyesight! These foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow and orange peppers, bananas, pineapples, mangoes, pumpkin, apricots, winter squash, peaches, cantaloupe, and corn!
Green – The color found most abundantly in nature is without a doubt the color green! All green plants are rich in chlorophyll, a pigment essential to the process of photosynthesis, giving plants the ability to convert light into energy. The greener a plant is, the more chlorophyll it has, and the more chlorophyll you consume through dark green veggies, the more your body will be filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that promote healing. Choose from your favorite green foods including avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kiwi fruit, collard greens, and herbs to make sure you fulfill your recommended vegetable servings!
Blue & Purple – Foods deep in blue and purple hues tend to be rich in anthocyanins, a pigment that helps delay cellular aging, block the formation of blood clots, and lower blood pressure. These mighty pigments possess antidiabetic, anticancer, antimicrobial, anti-obesity, as well as anti-inflammatory effects, making them some of the most healthful colors you can eat! Examples of blue and purple, anthocyanin-abundant produce include blueberries, blackberries, grapes, eggplant, plums, and purple cabbage, to name a few.
White & Brown – Albeit, not on the traditional colors of the rainbow, white and brown foods certainly bring their bag of health-promoting properties to the table! Allicin is a compound that has been linked to having anti-tumor effects and is rich in antioxidant flavonoids. This antiviral and anti-fungal organic compound is found in onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, and mushrooms.
Each of the different colors offer an array of benefits. We recommend trying to incorporate as many different colors into your day as possible to receive the several nutrients the body needs. Food truly is medicine, and nature provides us with all that we need to live healthy lifestyles. Steer away from the sandy-colored foods and take a bit into the rainbow!