Health Benefits of “Eating The Rainbow”

Farmer's Market

There may be some disappointment when reality hits, but the term “eating the rainbow” does not mean eating an entire sleeve of Starburst, a bag of Skittles or two bowls of Lucky Charms.

Can’t tell you the chagrin on faces in our house when that truth was revealed. For the longest time, the child in the home thought he was getting healthy by eating Skittles and fruit snacks constantly.

Farmer's Market

Eating the Rainbow, Explained

There has been a lot of research conducted over the years about the nutritional value of various foods, and especially fruits and vegetables. What has been found is that, for a truly balanced, healthful diet, moderation in wide variety of foods is most beneficial – and especially the diversity of colors of foods. Doing so can reduce the risk of various cancers and improve metabolism and help prevent disease, or at least mitigate the severity of colds and other common ailments.

The term “eating the rainbow” refers to having a diet that boasts a wide variety of colors, and there is a connection between certain colors and the nutrients that are most prevalent in those fruits and vegetables.  And not only that, but research has shown that the deeper the color, the more plentiful are the nutrients in that fruit or vegetable.

To mention a couple of examples of what we mean, orange fruits are rich in vitamin C, while red items like tomatoes and strawberries have high levels of lycopene. And within the same family, deeper colors are best – such as with lettuce, where romaine or kale will have higher levels of magnesium, iron and potassium than iceberg lettuce, which is much paler in color. Deeper, richer color is generally better with most varieties.

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Rainbow Tips

The goal here is to eat as much variety as you can in your daily diet, according to several nutritionists. The idea is that eating more fruits and vegetables – and especially a diverse mix in your diet – will give you most of the nutrients your body needs for a healthy life. In addition, there is the thought that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables would fill all the space in your stomach so that it could eliminate the “cravings” for sweets such as cookies or ice cream.

But really, do we want to fill up our stomachs with that much healthy? Do you really see ourselves eschewing dessert, which could be a reward for “behaving”? Sorry, digression.

Anyway, very few people question the benefits of fruits and vegetables in a daily and weekly diet, and having a “salad” of options in your diet helps not only your taste buds (keeping them from getting bored) but also for your body in general. But there is some guidance about properly eating the rainbow that should be kept in mind.

As you might think, many fruits and vegetables are better nutritionally when eaten raw, rather than cooked.  While in general that is true, there are some exceptions, at least in terms of maximizing the nutritional benefit. It is certainly not recommended to boil these items, much less fry them. To retain nutrients so they are valuable, you could steam some of them slightly (not so much that they get too soft). And actually, carrots and tomatoes can be exceptions to only going raw; carrots, actually, increase their nutrient concentration when they are cooked, and tomatoes combined with some kind of “fatty” oil actually enhances the lycopene.

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And another thing – the colors do mean that the fruit or vegetable is rich in nutrients, but focus on the color. For example, an apple has most of its nutritional value in its skin, not in the flesh. A watermelon ‘s nutrients are concentrated in the red flesh inside, not on the green skin, as a contrary example.

At the very least, wash raw vegetables thoroughly before you eat them, and if you can steam or bake the vegetables, those might be your best bet to retain nutrients and at least kill off any potential bacteria so the healthful elements of eating these fruits and vegetables can be maximized.

Starburst urges everyone to “taste the rainbow.” But taste doesn’t lead you down a healthy path. Eating the rainbow, which is the next step beyond tasting, is where the rubber meets the road. Remember to get a rainbow of colors from the farmer’s market, not from the candy aisle of your local grocery store.

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  • Kates , October 16, 2016

    Eating the rainbow, this is the first time I’ve encountered that term. And at first blush, I thought it’s about candies. But kidding aside, when I was in a fruit diet, my friend told me the same as you did doc, that to eat those fruits with bolder colors, more colors means the more healthy I can become. But the problem is that it’s very expensive! But who cares right? When it comes to health I think we should not be stingy. And btw, can you give a specific list of those rainbow fruits?

  • Cascia Talbert , October 17, 2016

    That’s a great question. After reviewing Dr. Chen’s article I found that he discussed darker leafy greens like kale and red veggies and fruits like tomatoes and strawberries. I think what he is trying to say is look for colorful fruits and veggies. The more variety of different colors, the more variety of different nutrients you will get to fuel your body. Yellow bananas, orange carrots, red tomatoes, purple grapes and eggplant, blue blueberries, green kale – those are all wonderful options for eating a rainbow of foods.

    Thanks for stopping by Kates. Have a great week!

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