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Eat a Rainbow

‘Eat a Rainbow’ in healthy eating terms is a fun phrase to encourage a higher intake of fruit and vegetables. We asked Nutritionist Louisa Gregory about the details of why colour in our diet is important.

We know fruit and vegetables are widely recommended for their health-promoting properties. They contain important vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals. They also provide a rich source of fibre which is crucial for a healthy digestive system, disease prevention, and the regulation of blood sugar levels. We have been brought up with the 5-a-day reminder to eat more fruit and vegetables so why the rainbow

The 5-a-day message is important but it doesn’t emphasise the requirement to eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables from the huge list of options available to us. We are typically creatures of habit and fall comfortably into familiar routines of buying the same fruit and veg we like each week or those that our children will eat. It’s not just the quantity of fruit and vegetables that we eat each day that makes a difference to our health, but the diversity as well. Latest research suggests plant-based foods contain not only a range of essential vitamins and minerals but also phytonutrients. These are natural chemicals that provide protection to us in the same way they provide protection to the plant, by fighting off damaging environmental factors and disease [1]. 

Unlike plants, we as humans don’t make our own, and therefore need to consume them in our diet to reap the benefits. What is interesting about phytonutrients, is that the colour of the fruit and vegetable typically corresponds with the phytonutrient characteristics and associated health benefits. Red foods for example are high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory and immune boosting qualities; orange foods are abundant in carotenoids and have hormone regulating qualities; yellow foods are rich in fibre to support complex gut bacteria and gastrointestinal health; green foods are high in nutrients for cardiovascular health; and purple foods assist with learning, memory and mood [2]. 

Put simply ‘Eat a Rainbow’ serves to remind us that for all important health, we need all important fruit and vegetable diversity. There are downloadable incentive sheets to stick on your fridge under the Tools section of the Cooking Good website. A rainbow chart can be a particularly useful tool for encouraging picky eaters and those used to the same foods. By taking the pressure away from numbers and instead ticking off the colours, children seem to respond really well. It is a great way to get them interested in the what and why of what they are eating. 

To incorporate a rainbow within everyday life, keep things simple and think in terms of adding colour to dishes you already cook. Try bulking up a shepherd’s pie by adding celery (green), peppers (red, yellow), mushrooms (white), topping with sweet potato (orange) and to really show off, serve with purple sprouting broccoli! Get creative with casseroles, pizza toppings, pasta sauces, soups and smoothies. Take your children shopping, get them involved in the kitchen, and look out for seasonal produce. Experiment with raw, roasted, mashed and steamed textures. Check out the supermarket freezer aisle for cost-effective and pre-prepared spinach, squash, cauliflower and sweet potato. Above all have fun, build on new ingredients, and remember children often need multiple exposures to certain tastes before they become kinder critics. 

[1] Gupta C & Prakash D. Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine. Vol. 11, Issue 3. 2014. 

[2] Minich D. A review of the science of colourful, plant-based food and practical strategies for ‘Eating the rainbow’. Journal of Nutrition & Metabolism. 2019.

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