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Alex Allan Nutrition
By Alex on 31/01/21 | Nutrition Tips

When I encourage clients to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, I often ask them to “eat the rainbow". Most people know that they should be trying to eat fruits and vegetables, but why is it so important, what do the colours even mean, and does it truly benefit your health?

Put simply, eating the rainbow basically involves eating fruits and vegetables of different colours every day. This means not sticking to the same three or four veg that we usually have.

Plants contain different pigments which give them their individual colour.  Interestingly, these pigments are actually phytonutrients, which can be defined as chemicals produced by plants. However, the term is generally used to describe chemicals from plants that may be beneficial to health, but are not essential nutrients.  

From an evolutionary perspective, the noxious properties of such phytochemicals play an important role in dissuading insects and other pests from eating the plants. However, at the relatively tiny doses ingested by us as we eat the plant, the phytochemicals are not toxic and induce a mild cellular stress response. A stress response to a small toxic stress allows us to produce an anti-inflammatory response and so the body kicks into action.

Each different-coloured plant is linked to different phytonutrients, from which we in turn can derive different health benefits. See the list below which defines which benefits may be derived from which colours.

While increasing the amount of fruit and veg is always a good idea, focusing on eating a variety of colours will increase your intake of different nutrients, and consequently may help to improve your health.

While there are many purported benefits of phytonutrients, it’s difficult to perform scientific trials to prove how effective they are. Therefore, most research into phytonutrients has been based on the intakes at population-level and relative disease risk, therefore eating well and widely is not a replacement for healthcare for specific ailments. However, almost all research has shown benefits from regularly eating colourful fruits and vegetableswith virtually no downsides at all. So pop those veggies on your plate.

By getting a variety of colour in your diet, you’re not only giving your body an array of vitamins and minerals, but different phytochemicals to boot which may benefit your health.

To get the very best from your diet, follow these five simple steps:
Aim for 9-13 serving of plant foods every day
The average serving is approximately half a cup of cooked veggies, one cup of raw leafy veggies, or a medium-sized piece of fruit. 
If you aim for 3-4 at each meal, you are well on your way to reaching your target.

Don't forget that herbs and spices contain phytochemicals too, as do green, white and oolong teas - these all count towards your daily number.
Eat the rainbow of colours
Most people eating a standard Western diet are stuck eating brown, yellow and white foods. 
While these foods have their place, imagine how appetising a plate of red, orange, green and purple foods might be - think of having a breakfast smoothie with green spinach, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries - you've covered off four of your colours already. 
Make it a goal to get the full 7 colours in your diet each day by choosing a good variety of foods.
Vary your choices
Tempting as it is to buy the same foods each week - I hear you busy person who is doing the same online shop! - there are thousands of phytonutrients in nature that may be beneficial to us.
By varying our choices and mixing it up each week, we can be sure we're not missing out on the good stuff.
Aim to add at least one new fruit or veggie to your shopping basket each week - you may just find a new favourite.
Maximise combinations
If you want to take it one step further, think about how you can combine foods so you get the maximum nutrition benefit you can.
Some foods work together in a synergistic way, meaning that eating them together can provide an even better result.
For example, adding lemon juice to your salad dressing may help you absorb more iron from your spinach leaves. Try putting different plant foods together for maximum effect.
Be Creative
Sometimes the darker the colour, the more phytonutrients a plant food has, so get creative with your choices.
For example, swapping out white potatoes for purple potatoes or orange sweet potatoes allows you to have your mash alongside your favourite meal, but gives you some extra nutrition.
The same can be said for swapping white rice for red rice or black rice - the extra phytonutrients are there, but you are just making a creative swap that doesn't interfere too much with your daily cooking.

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