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.
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