Colourful plates of food not only look aesthetically pleasing, but are also very nutritious. A rainbow plate packed with the antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables helps you to reach your 5-a day and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Over the years, several Health organisations including the American Institute for Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation and American Heart Association, have advocated for "eating the rainbow”. Dietary guidelines encourage the consumption of a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables for many different health reasons. The more colourful and balanced your diet is, the lower your risk is of overeating unhealthy food, including cakes and sweets that have artificial colours (which unfortunately don't count towards your rainbow plate!).
A healthy diet doesn’t always contain every colour, and can depend on the season and the availability of specific fruit and the vegetables. Dark-green, red and orange vegetables are highly recommended by health professionals. Dark-green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts and spinach are high in vitamin K which is a group of fat-soluble vitamins that play a vital role in blood clotting and bone formation. Red and orange vegetables are recognised for their vitamin A content, which is essential for good eyesight and healthy skin (maybe there is some truth in the myth that carrots help you see in the dark!).
In this article, we are going to tell you the different nutrients that correspond with each colour, and explore the health benefits and functions that they offer.
Red food and inflammation:
Red fruit and vegetables contain phytochemicals (chemicals originating from plants, 'phyto' means plant!) including lycopene and ellagic acid which have cancer-fighting effects, with lycopene (found in tomatoes) being found to reverse the progression of prostate cancer. The addition of pomegranate seeds, strawberries or cherry tomatoes to your daily salad is a great way to reduce the risk of chronic inflammation which leads to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. Moreover, red produce such as strawberries, red bell peppers and tomatoes, contain a lot of vitamin C which is a strong antioxidant that protects the immune system.
Orange food and reproductive health:
Orange fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamin C and carotenoids (a pigment high in antioxidants) including beta-carotene. Carotenoids are converted into vitamin A which helps promote healthy vision and healthy skin. Carotenoids are also important in ovaries, as they decrease the risk of breast and prostate cancer, as well as lowering the risk of developing endometriosis.
Carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe melon, oranges and mangoes are all good examples of orange vegetables rich in vitamin A and vitamin C.
Yellow food and digestion:
Lemon, papaya, banana and yellow peppers are examples of yellow fruit and vegetables that are rich in carotenoids as well as beta-cryptoxanthin, which is another pigment rich in antioxidants. Beta-cryptoxanthin is also converted into vitamin A which is essential for good eyesight, with it being said that vegetables containing vitamin A help you to see in the dark. These nutrients are also rich in fibre which supports good gastrointestinal health. For example, bananas increase the number of bifidobacteria (the good bacteria) in the gut and reduces bloating; pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain which is helpful in metabolising undigested food remnants in the stomach, therefore improving your digestive health overall.
Green food and cardiovascular health:
Green vegetables including kale, spinach, swiss chard, broccoli, zucchini and green beans, are rich in vitamin K, folate, lutein (another pigment) and isoflavones which provide cardiovascular protection. They also contain a pigment called chlorophyll which gives the green colour to the vegetables, as well as green fruits including kiwi, avocado, green apples and green grapes. Researchers report that chlorophyll can help reduce damage to DNA, and has many other great health benefits including improving skin health and being a great source of nutrients. We recommend a daily consumption of green leafy vegetables as well as green fruit to reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease and stroke.
Blue/purple food and cognition:
Blue and purple foods including blueberries, aubergines, plums, purple cabbage and blackberries are rich in anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants that have been linked to improving memory and cognition. In addition to their brain-boosting benefits, these blue-purple foods contain a compound called resveratrol, found in the skin of the fruit and vegetables, which has been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
White foods and cholesterol:
White foods such as celeriac, garlic, onions, mushrooms and Jerusalem artichoke contain anthoxanthins which are pigments that create white or cream colour and they are linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Studies have shown that a daily consumption of these white foods decreases LDL cholesterol. There are also some white vegetables like cauliflower, garlic and onions that contain powerful anti-cancer compounds such as sulforaphane in cauliflower and allicin and quercetin in garlic and onions.
Overall, counting colours is a great way to improve your lifestyle, and makes it much easier to make healthier choices in the future. Here are some top tips to follow that will ensure you're eating the rainbow all year around:
Nature has color-coded everything for us, and we should take advantage of this to optimise our health and give more colour to our lives!