To illustrate the importance of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, health professionals often advise you to “eat the rainbow.”

You probably know that you should eat colorful fruits and vegetables, but you may wonder why it’s so important and if doing so truly benefits your health.

This article reviews the concept of eating the rainbow, its benefits, and how to do it.

Simply put, eating the rainbow involves eating fruits and vegetables of different colors every day.

Plants contain different pigments, or phytonutrients, which give them their color. Different-colored plants are linked to higher levels of specific nutrients and health benefits.

While eating more vegetables and fruit is always a good idea, focusing on eating a variety of colors will increase your intake of different nutrients to benefit various areas of your health.

While there are many purported benefits of phytonutrients, it’s difficult to perform randomized controlled trials — the most rigorous type of research — to prove their efficacy. As such, most research is based on population-level intakes and disease risk (1).

That said, almost all studies show benefits from regularly eating colorful fruits and vegetables with virtually no downsides. By getting a variety of color in your diet, you’re giving your body an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to benefit your health (1).

Here’s an overview of the health benefits of different-colored foods (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6):

Summary

To eat the rainbow, be sure to eat a variety of different-colored fruits and vegetables throughout your day. Most colorful fruits and veggies have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that may benefit different aspects of your health.

Each color represents a different phytochemical and set of nutrients that may benefit your health.

The following sections go into more detail regarding sample foods, their main phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, as well as the benefits of each color category (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Note that when it comes to vitamins and minerals, levels can vary for each vegetable or fruit.

Red

Fruits and veggies

  • tomatoes
  • tomato paste
  • tomato sauce
  • watermelon
  • pink guava
  • grapefruit

Main phytonutrients

  • lycopene (from the vitamin A family)

Main vitamins and minerals

  • folate
  • potassium
  • vitamin A (lycopene)
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin K1

Health benefits

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • may benefit heart health
  • may reduce sun-related skin damage
  • may lower your risk of certain cancers

Orange and yellow

Fruits and veggies

  • carrots
  • sweet potatoes
  • yellow peppers
  • bananas
  • pineapple
  • tangerines
  • pumpkin
  • winter squash
  • corn

Main phytonutrients

  • carotenoids (e.g., beta carotene, alpha carotene, beta cryptoxanthin), which belong to the vitamin A family

Main vitamins and minerals

  • fiber
  • folate
  • potassium
  • vitamin A (beta carotene)
  • vitamin C

Health benefits

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • may benefit heart health
  • supports eye health
  • may lower your risk of cancer

Green

Fruits and veggies

  • spinach
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • avocados
  • asparagus
  • green cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • green herbs

Main phytonutrients

  • Leafy greens: chlorophyll and carotenoids
  • Cruciferous greens (e.g., broccoli, cabbage): indoles, isothiocyanates, glucosinolates

Main vitamins and minerals

  • fiber
  • folate
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • vitamin A (beta carotene)
  • vitamin K1

Health benefits

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • cruciferous veggies, in particular, may lower your risk of cancer and heart disease

Blue and purple

Fruits and veggies

  • blueberries
  • blackberries
  • Concord grapes
  • red/purple cabbage
  • eggplant
  • plums
  • elderberries

Main phytonutrients

Main vitamins and minerals

  • fiber
  • manganese
  • potassium
  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin K1

Health benefits

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • may benefit heart health
  • may lower your risk of neurological disorders
  • may improve brain function
  • may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes
  • may lower your risk of certain cancers

Dark red

Fruits and veggies

Main phytonutrients

Main vitamins and minerals

  • fiber
  • folate
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • potassium
  • vitamin B6

Health benefits

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • may lower your risk of high blood pressure
  • may benefit heart health
  • may lower your risk of certain cancers
  • may support athletic performance through increased oxygen uptake

White and brown

Fruits and veggies

  • cauliflower
  • garlic
  • leeks
  • onions
  • mushrooms
  • daikon radish
  • parsnips
  • white potatoes

Main phytonutrients

  • anthoxanthins (flavonols, flavones), allicin

Main vitamins and minerals

  • fiber
  • folate
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • potassium
  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin K1

Health benefits

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • may lower your risk of colon and other cancers
  • may benefit heart health

Summary

Each color represents a different phytochemical and set of nutrients that may benefit your health.

The great thing about eating the rainbow is it’s easy to implement.

To eat the rainbow, try to incorporate two to three different-colored fruits or vegetables at every meal and at least one at every snack. While you don’t have to eat every single color every day, try to get them into your diet a few times per week. Here are some ideas:

Breakfast

  • an omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and orange bell peppers
  • a smoothie with mango, banana, and dragonfruit
  • a Greek yogurt bowl with blueberries, kiwi, and strawberries
  • a breakfast egg sandwich with tomato, leafy greens, and avocado

Lunch or dinner

  • a mixed salad with green cabbage, lettuce, apple, shredded carrots, red pepper, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes paired with a protein source (e.g., kidney beans, chickpeas, grilled chicken, salmon)
  • chicken with roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and garlic
  • homemade soup with canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, chopped carrots, white potatoes or parsnip, and kale
  • a goat cheese salad with pickled beets, arugula, avocado, and pecans
  • spaghetti with tomato sauce, mushrooms, and zucchini

Snacks

  • an apple with peanut butter
  • red pepper slices with hummus
  • grapes and cheese
  • a green smoothie or juice
  • a banana
  • blueberries and yogurt
  • broccoli, carrots, and dip
  • dried mango slices
  • 4–5 longan or lychee fruit
  • edamame pods
  • celery and melted cheese

The opportunities to include fruits and vegetables into your diet are endless. If you live in an area without fresh produce year-round, try purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables for some meals. They’re equally nutritious, accessible, and affordable.

Summary

Try to eat two to three different-colored fruits or vegetables at every meal, as well as one to two at every snack.

Remembering to eat the rainbow every day is a great and simple way to make sure you’re getting a variety of nutrients into your diet.

Fruits and vegetables of different colors confer various health benefits. By ensuring you’re eating a few colored fruits or vegetables at each meal, you’re setting yourself up for good health.

To try eating the rainbow, work toward adding at least two or three colored fruits or vegetables to each meal and at least one or two to each snack.



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