It sounds too simple — or fun — to be true: eating the rainbow can majorly impact our health. A naturally colorful plate is a sign of a wide variety of nutrients and, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, those whole, brightly colored foods can support a long, healthy life. Get the break down, color by color, below.
In his upcoming cookbook, Food: What the Heck Should I Cook?, Dr. Hyman translates the complexities of functional nutrition down into simple meals we can make every day. Keep an eye out — we’ll be sharing a few of his best recipes on the site over the next few weeks and you can pre-order the essential cookbook here…
You’ll hear me say this time and time again: Eat the rainbow. No, I don’t mean sugary, artificially flavored and colored candy. I’m talking about real, wholesome, brightly hued fruits and vegetables. If you want to use food as medicine, this is the simplest tip to follow. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate more than 800 varieties of plants, providing fiber along with an abundance of different nutrients. We should take a note from history and try to get as much diversity as we can in our diets, too. Eat an assortment of colorful plant foods on a daily basis and you’ll reap the benefits of numerous phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that support optimal health.
Eat The Rainbow:
Nutritional Benefits By Color
The color of a plant signals different beneficial compounds within it, with each color group representing naturally protective and healing substances. The brightest ones tend to be the most nutrient-dense foods:
Blue-purple signals the presence of anthocyanins in foods like eggplants, beets, blueberries, red cabbage and purple potatoes. Anthocyanins have been found to prevent blood clots, delay cellular aging and may even slow the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Green indicates the presence of phytochemicals like sulforaphane, isocyanates and indoles, which are anticarcinogenic and detoxifying. Many green veggies are part of the Brassica family, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, kale, cauliflower and more.
Orange means the compounds alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are present and can be seen in foods like carrots, pumpkin, acorn squash and sweet potatoes. Alpha-carotene protects against cancer and benefits skin and eye health; beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A and antioxidant within the body.
Pale green-white is caused by compounds called allicins, which have powerful anticancer, antitumor, immune-boosting and antimicrobial properties. These are present in garlic, onions, leeks and others. Many of these same foods contain antioxidant flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol.
Red indicates a carotenoid called lycopene, found in tomatoes, bell peppers and carrots. Asparagus also actually contains a good amount of lycopene—proof that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Lycopene is protective against heart disease and cancer due to its powerful antioxidant activity.
Yellow-green means a food contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are especially beneficial for the eyes and help protect the heart against atherosclerosis. Vegetables in this group may not always appear yellowish. In addition to yellow summer squash and orange bell peppers, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, peas and even avocados all contain these powerful nutrients.
When you’re at the farmer’s market or browsing the produce aisle at the grocery store, be sure to stock up with a variety of different colors to provide your body with an abundance of different beneficial plant compounds.
Excerpted from FOOD: What the Heck Should I Cook? Copyright © 2019 by Mark Hyman, MD. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.