Eating the Rainbow for Good Nutrition
One of the simplest tricks to good nutrition is to eat a variety of colors. Here’s how you can get the most from your fruits and vegetables.
Getting the maximum amount of vitamins and minerals from your diet just got a little easier. Simply focus on picking a “rainbow” of different colors of fruits and vegetables — from dark leafy greens to bright citrus fruits.
“As the American Cancer Society says, each of the colors usually represents different nutrients,” says Kathy Taylor, RD, director of nutrition at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. “Eating from the rainbow ensures that you will be receiving a variety of nutrients.”
If you find yourself always choosing the same fruits and vegetables, open your mind to new flavors. For instance, if you’re an orange and apple fan, try peaches and plums. If iceberg lettuce or romaine are your salad mainstays, switch to dark leafy greens such as spinach or arugula.
Another strategy is to try new cuisines, especially Asian or Middle Eastern ones that use vegetables in flavorful ways in salads, soups, stews, and main dishes.
The Vitamins and Minerals of the Color Wheel
The nutrients in fruits and vegetables can often be categorized by their colors. Here are the vitamins and minerals you can expect to find in each:
- Red. In fruits and vegetables, red is usually a sign of vitamin A (beta carotene) and vitamin C.Typically, red produce are also high in manganese and fiber. Choose red bell peppers, tomatoes, cherries, cranberries, raspberries, rhubarb, pomegranates, and beets. Red apples also contain quercetin, a compound that seems to fight colds, the flu, and allergies. Tomatoes, watermelon, and red grapefruit are loaded with lycopene, a compound that appears to have cancer-fighting properties.
- Orange. Just a shade away from red, orange in fruits and vegetables signifies a similar vitamin and mineral profile. You’ll get vitamins C, A, and B6, potassium, and fiber in choices such as butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, oranges, pumpkins, orange peppers, nectarines, and peaches.
- Yellow. Banana is probably the first yellow fruit that comes to mind — and it delivers potassium and fiber. You will also find potassium and fiber plus manganese, vitamin A, and magnesium in other yellow produce, such as spaghetti squash, summer squash, and yellow bell peppers.
- Green. Dark leafy greens are packed with nutrients, and Taylor recommends adding a variety to your diet — this group offers far more vitamins and minerals than iceberg lettuce. Taylor’s favorite dark leafy green is spinach because of its rich lutein content, which aids eyesight, and folate, which supports cell reproduction. Broccoli and asparagus also contain these compounds.
- Blue. Think blue, and you’re most likely picturing a bowl of blueberries, one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants. They are also loaded with fiber and make an incredibly versatile addition to your diet — eat them by the handful, sprinkle them on cereal, or add them to salads for a different and delicious taste, says Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, RD, founder of Hispanic Food Communications.
- Purple. This group includes vegetables like red onions and eggplant, and fruits such as blackberries, Concord grapes, currants, and plums. Purple indicates the presence of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that protect blood vessels and preserve healthy skin. You can also find vitamin A and flavonoids in purple vegetables like radicchio, purple cabbage, purple potatoes, and purple carrots.
- White. White may not be much of a color, but white vegetables, such as cauliflower, rutabagas, and parsnips, still shine with vitamins and minerals like vitamins C, K, and folate, and they contain fiber. Don’t forget onions and garlic, which have a compound called allicin that seems to protect the heart and blood vessels from damage.
If your fruit and vegetable basket has been limited to carrots and apples, exploring the rainbow of choices available at your local farmers’ market or produce department will reward you with a bounty of vitamins and minerals as well as delicious meals.