‘Eat the rainbow’ is something we’ve all heard before but what does this vague piece of advice actually mean? We explore the health benefits of each colour.
We’ve all been reminded of the importance of eating our greens… but what about our reds? Or purples? Or blues? It can be tempting to eat the same fruit and veg day in, day out but eating a variety of different coloured fruit and veg every day can have a range of benefits for our health.
Simply put, plants contain different pigments, or phytonutrients, which give them their colour and these different colours are linked to certain nutrients and antioxidants that can support our health.
We spoke with Libby Linford, registered nutritional therapist and founder of Surrey Centre for Nutrition, for a breakdown of what each colour means for our health.
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“Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale and spinach are rich in chlorophyll,” explains Linford. “Chlorophyll is considered a powerful antioxidant that can prevent cellular damage.”
Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage healthy cells in our bodies, causing inflammation and disease in our body. Certain lifestyle factors like a diet high in processed and sugary food, smoking and exposure to toxic chemicals can accelerate the production of free radicals in our bodies.Antioxidants, however, are great at fighting these free radicals to keep our cells healthy.
Orange and yellow
Carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins contain the antioxidant beta-carotene which Linford explains “can help protect vision and prevent age-related sight degeneration”. One study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that a diet high in beta-carotene can help absorb UV light, working to protect our skin from the sun (though this should not be a substitute for daily SPF application, of course). And another study carried out in 2016 found that eating yellow food can actually make us happier.
Tomatoes and watermelon are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. “Red foods such as beetroot also contain nitric oxide, which has been shown to support the dilation of blood vessels and therefore improving circulation,” explains Linford.
Purple and blue
Purple and blue fruits and vegetable such as blueberries and aubergines contain antioxidants called anthocyanin and resveratrol. Linford explains that “these powerful antioxidants can decrease levels of oxidative stress and reduce inflammation within the body”. A 2017 study showed that anthocyanin has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties which can help protect against several diseases.
White and brown
“Although maybe not as beautiful, white vegetables such as cauliflower, garlic and onions have important health benefits,” Linford says. “Quercetin and allicin are plant compounds found in white and brown vegetables that have antioxidant properties which support the body in its fight against cellular damage from free radicals.”
Is it possible to eat too much of one colour?
“In general, you are unlikely to consume too great a quantity of one phytochemical from plant sources,” says Linford.
She recommends eating a variety of different colours in your everyday diet. “As we see above, there is no one colour which is supportive of the health of one system of the body, as many phytochemicals have the ability to support immune health, to reduce inflammation, to enhance detoxification and to prevent free radical damage.”
So it’s not about making sure we only eat lots of one colour but trying to eat a well-balanced colour palette every day.
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How can we add more colourful food into our diets?
“I would always advise starting the day with a beautiful breakfast,” says Linford. “Adding a selection of berries, either fresh or frozen, to your breakfast bowl is a great way to ensure you are already on track with your rainbow intake for the day.”
Sound advice indeed.
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