Although there can be many approaches to healthy eating, most nutritionists agree on at least one thing: ‘eating a rainbow’ – lots of different-coloured vegetables and fruits – is great for our health.
Here we have a look at the unique benefits of the different colours and how you can easily incorporate them into your meals and snacks.
Examples: Kale, spinach, rocket, broccoli, chard, green beans.
Green vegetables are top of the tree when it comes to their nutritional highlights. They’re among our best sources of folate (folic acid), a vitamin that’s essential for a strong immune system and for building healthy red blood cells. They’re super-high in vitamin K, which is vital for strong bones. They’re one of our best sources of magnesium, and a great non-dairy source of calcium, both of which are vital for our bones, muscles and nerves. They’re high in beta-carotene, which can convert to vitamin A in our body; and many of them – such as broccoli – are rich in vitamin C too. Now you understand why your parents always told you to eat your greens!
- Chop and steam a bunch of kale for five to seven minutes. Drain and toss with a knob of butter and drizzle over lemon juice for a tasty side dish
- Make a tasty rocket dip: use three bags of organic rocket, two peeled cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, 50–100ml of olive oil, half a teaspoon of sea salt, a pinch of chilli pepper, and two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds. Whizz in a food processor. It’s great for snacks, for pimping up a salad and even for stirring into stews or soups
- Scrambled eggs with wilted spinach: wilt a handful of spinach in a pan with some butter before adding your beaten eggs, and stir together until the eggs are cooked
Examples: Yellow peppers, sweet corn, peaches, mango
Like orange vegetables, yellow vegetables and fruits are often rich in carotenoids. Some – such as sweet corn – are particularly high in the yellow-coloured carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to concentrate in the macula of our eye (the part of the retina that is responsible for our central, sharpest vision) and help protect it against damaging blue light, protecting our vision.
- Add yellow peppers to your red peppers and tomatoes to create a multi-coloured roasted vegetable medley
- Make a smoothie with half a peeled mango, 200ml of half-fat coconut milk, a handful of spinach and quarter of an avocado, with a teaspoon of honey to sweeten. An easy way to get your greens as well as your yellows!
Purple and blue
Examples: Blueberries, aubergine, red grapes, purple carrots, beetroot.
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables are best known for their content of anthocyanins, like those found in red berries. Some of them, such as red grapes (which are actually more purple in colour, of course) contain resveratrol, a polyphenol that’s been associated with protective effects for heart health, as well as anti-ageing, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Beetroot also contains substances called betalains, which are thought to support detoxification; and also contains natural nitrates, which may help to lower blood pressure and support our circulation.
- Add raw beetroot to a homemade smoothie to give it a brilliant colour as well as a nutrient boost. Blueberries are also fantastic in smoothies, of course
- Make beetroot coleslaw with raw grated beetroot, apple, carrots and thinly sliced red cabbage, mixed with lemon juice, salt and pepper, pumpkin seeds and a sprinkling of fennel seeds
- For a delicious breakfast, soak porridge oats and chopped nuts overnight in water. In the morning, stir in with natural yoghurt, blueberries and halved red grapes
Examples: Tomatoes, red peppers, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon
Red fruits and veggies are a great way to make your meal look pretty, and they certainly deliver on health benefits too!
Tomatoes in particular contain high levels of lycopene, a type of carotenoid that’s associated with strong antioxidant activity, and may be particularly protective for the prostate in men. Watermelon contains lycopene too.
Red berries such as strawberries and raspberries are great sources of beneficial anthocyanins. The ‘cyan’ in the name ‘anthocyanins’ refers to their red colour. They are associated with increasing the body’s antioxidant capacity and providing anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Add red berries to any homemade smoothie. They’re a fantastic way to add flavour, colour, and sweetness to your smoothie while giving less of a sugar hit than most other fruits. Keep frozen berries on hand for this purpose – they’re just as good as fresh
- Mix fresh berries with natural yoghurt for a tasty, healthy snack
- It’s been found that the lycopene in cooked tomatoes is better absorbed than in raw tomatoes. Halve tomatoes and red peppers, drizzle them with olive oil and roast for 20 minutes – delicious!
Examples: Sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots, apricots
Orange vegetables are our best source of carotenoids. These include beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, both of which can be used by our body to make vitamin A – vital for immunity, healthy skin and great vision. (Carrots really can help us see in the dark!) Like the anthocyanins in red fruits and vegetables, carotenoids can also support our body’s antioxidant systems and have anti-inflammatory properties. They may also be particularly protective for our skin, against the harmful effects of UV light.
- Carotenoids are fat-soluble compounds, and so they’re best absorbed when consumed with some fat. Chop a big batch of sweet potatoes, squash or carrots (or a mixture) into 1-inch chunks or wedges, coat with melted coconut oil or olive oil and roast in the oven for around 45 minutes or until cooked through. They will keep in the fridge for up to 48 hours and can be used as an accompaniment to any meal, or as a nutritious snack
- Make butternut squash soup – the natural sweetness of the squash makes it delicious
Examples: White cabbage, cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms
White may not be considered a colour of the rainbow, but white vegetables should not be dismissed. Cauliflower and cabbage are high in protective compounds called glucosinolates. They are also surprisingly rich in vitamin C, and can be just as high in antioxidants as broccoli. Onions are rich in a flavonoid called quercetin, which can have antioxidant and anti-histamine effects; and both onions and garlic are high in sulphur compounds that may help to lower cholesterol and support heart health.
- Cauliflower has become the vegetable of the moment as we’ve realised just how versatile and tasty it can be. Make cauliflower rice by chopping cauliflower finely in a food processor until the size of rice grains, then steaming for around 5 minutes. Or make cauliflower mash by steaming cauliflower florets until soft, then blitzing in a food processor with sea salt, pepper and a knob of butter, until creamy
- Sauté chopped mushrooms with finely chopped garlic and a knob of butter, until they are cooked down. An excellent accompaniment to a breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast