Taste the rainbow

Hippocrates famously said, ‘Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.’

by Jo Lewin, Community Nutritionist

We know eating well can strengthen the body and keep the immune system strong to resist disease and keep us healthy. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre and it is strongly advised that we eat at least five portions per day (~80g per portion).

Although this message is widely known, it appears to be hard to reach. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed only 27% of adults aged 19-64 years are meeting the 5-a-day recommendation for fruit and vegetable intake.

There is no specific evidence to recommend different proportions of certain fruit and vegetables based on their colour. However, a useful mantra is to try and eat a rainbow. The natural plant compounds known as phytochemicals that give fruit and vegetables their different colours are all beneficial to health.

Many phytochemicals are antioxidants and diets rich in antioxidants are associated with lower levels of a range of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, cataracts and even premature ageing. Try to pick a mix of the following colours each day – not only will this make your meals colourful, but also adds flavours and textures too.

Red: including tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and pomegranate

Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene which may help protect against some cancers, especially prostate cancer. Lycopene is more easily absorbed in the body when it is cooked – so why not try this recipe for a homemade tomato sauce?

Red berries contain a different group of antioxidants called anthocyanins These are thought to have properties that may help to protect against CVD, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.

Orange: including carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash and pumpkin

These foods are high in carotenoids, such as beta carotene. Beta carotene is converted in vitamin A in the body where it helps up make hormones and keeps eyes healthy – hence the saying that carrots will help you to see in the dark. Citrus fruits like oranges are low in vitamin A but high in vitamin C. Dried apricots are a great source of fibre, iron, potassium and calcium too.

Try snacking on carrot sticks for a healthier, crunchy snack.

Green: including broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale and pak choi

The pigment chlorophyll gives green fruits and vegetables their colour and many of them are rich in other nutrients too. Two antioxidants found in green fruit and veg are lutein and zeaxanthin. Studies suggest they may help protect against blood vessel damage and low the progression of age related macular degeneration which affects eyes. Try stirring peas or spinach into stir fries or soups to add colour. Here is a classic Indian dish that is a great way to up the greens.

Blue & purple:  including beetroot, blackberries, blueberries and red cabbage

Anthocyanins give blue and purple foods their rich colours. They are powerful antioxidants which may have a role in protecting cells from damage thereby reducing risk of disease and healthier ageing including eye sight and brain function. Try this colourful grated salad – one of our favourites

White: when it comes to starchy foods, wholegrains (browns) are the better choice, but that’s not the same for fruits and vegetables. Pale vegetables do have phytonutrients too, for example cauliflower, a cruciferous vegetable which belongs to the same family as broccoli and kale. Or garlic and onions, members of the allium family that have been respected for their health benefits for years, particularly for their anti-microbial properties.

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