It’s January. It’s cold, it’s dark, we’re tired and many of us are sick. What a perfect time to remind yourself about a simple nutrition trick that has the power to transform your diet: Eat the Rainbow.
This is one of the times of the year when people get a renewed interested in living well: eating better, exercising more, being kinder. One way to improve the healthfulness of your diet is to eat the rainbow.
This idea has been shared by people like Oprah, Dr. Oz, and even the evening news. And it’s good advice. Colourful fruits and vegetables, as well as herbs and spices, contain phytochemicals and nutrients which can boost the immune system. There is also a growing body of evidence that colourful fruits and veg can prevent or fight some types of cancer (see this article from Time Magazine).
As someone who strives to be healthy, I like the idea of eating the rainbow, and I like to think I do a good job of incorporating a variety of colours into my diet. But to check up on how I was actually doing, I felt an experiment was in order. I chose one meal (dinner) and took a picture of my plate each day for one week in order to see how many colours were represented. The experience was both fun and informative.
What I’ve learned
- Not everything healthy is colourful and not everything colourful is healthy. Many healthy, foods don’t fit into the rainbow chart. High-protein foods (even plant-based ones like nuts, seeds and tofu) don’t tend to contain a lot of colour. Whole grains are also part of a healthy diet and few are bursting with colour (although there are some like red quinoa and black rice for example). On the flip side, skittles, processed cheese and Fruit Loops are brightly coloured, but hardly healthy choices.
- It takes a conscious effort to eat the rainbow. It’s not difficult to eat a variety of colours, but it does take awareness – starting at the meal planning and grocery shopping stage.
- You’re probably not going to hit all the colours in a single meal. Many colorful foods, such as fruit, are great for breakfast or a snack. Others, like spinach and peppers make a great salad to accompany dinner. A vibrant soup is perfect for lunch. All together, you’ve got the rainbow!
- Some colours are easy; others are hard…and it’s not always what you’d expect. And it will vary from day to day, meal to meal, and season to season. In fall and winter, orange (winter squashes, citrus fruit) is more prevalent than yellow (bananas, peppers), for example.
Ok, so how did I do?
Sunday: Cod with sweet potato fries & salad (white, orange, green)
Monday: Tofu & veggies in rice wrap with beet and orange salad (white, green, purple, orange)
Tuesday: Leftover cod with roasted vegetables (white, orange, purple, green-ish)
Wednesday: Moroccan spiced pumpkin chili with salad (red, orange, white, purple, green)
Thursday: Mushroom, tofu and spinach stir-fry over brown rice with crudite (white, green, yellow, orange)
For a visual person like me, the pictures were a big help. At a glance I can see that there’s purple twice in the week; yellow and red only once. Orange and green are well represented (yay!), as is white. Interesting.
So what do I do with this information? Well, first of all, I celebrate the variety I was able to incorporate. Then I consider which of those colours make a regular appearance in other meals. (Banana & pineapple in morning green juice – check off the yellow!) And finally, I make a plan to look for more ways to eat what is regularly missing: red and purple foods. (Roasted eggplant for lunch; strawberries for dessert – check!)
And now, what can you take from this experiment? Nothing, really. This was my experiment. You need to analyze your meals and see what colours you’re eating. But here are a few tips.
Tips for consuming a variety of colours
- Take pictures of your food, but only for a short period of time (all meals in 1 day or 3 lunches in a row) and complete your simple analysis. Which colours do you tend to eat most often? What colour is consistently missing? What should and can be changed? Only do this on occasion, or it may lead to neurosis. Nerosis is not healthy.
- Scan your grocery cart for colours before checking out. If there’s a colour missing, go back to the produce section and find something. Having colourful food in the house doesn’t guarantee you’ll eat it, but not having it available does guarantee you won’t.
- Start with green juice in the morning. If you drink a banana blueberry kale smoothie for breakfast, for example, you can check off yellow, purple and green before you leave the house!
- Get others involved. Have a friend ask you when the last time you ate something purple was. If you have kids, get them to be rainbow hunters. Children can be very good at holding people – especially their parents – accountable!
In short, checking for colours is a great way to incorporate variety and good nutrition into your diet. It only takes a second to look at your plate, bowl, or lunchbox and see how much of the rainbow is represented. If it’s not very much, it’s also easy to eat some berries, grapes, or orange slices – as long as you’ve made a conscious effort to have them around.
As a final thought, through this experiment I fell in love with this initiative for helping kids to eat more fruits and vegetables! I’m going to have to order one of these kits for my fridge.