“I like to eat like a rainbow.” I’m borrowing this phrase from singer, songwriter Jay Mankita. He has been entertaining kids for over 25 years with his songs about healthy eating, sustainability and appreciation for our natural world. The song is the title track to his award-winning album, and the words go like this (you can listen to the song for free, here: http://eat-like-a-rainbow.bandcamp.com/track/eat-like-a-rainbow):
Eat Like A Rainbow
I like to eat like a rainbow
Builds my body and it makes my brain grow
Helps my heart beat and my blood flow
I like to eat like a rainbow
Red, orange, yellow, green
The tastiest colors I've ever seen
I like to eat food that's purple and blue
Colorful foods are healthier too
Colorful food makes a colorful meal
And that really colors the way that I feel
I'm livin' in a colorful way
I eat like a rainbow every day
Colorful sunsets, and colorful jokes
Colorful flowers and colorful folks
Colorful shirts and colorful pants
I eat from the rainbow of colorful plants
Jay is right on, because colorful foods certainly are healthy for you. Does your plate look like a rainbow every day? Research indicates that diets rich in vegetables and fruits are associated with a decreased risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. It’s estimated that somewhere around 50% of cancer cases, and about 35% of cancer deaths in the US can be attributed to poor diet. Colorful foods not only help protect against cancer and cardiovascular issues, they also have an array of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and various phytochemicals) that keep your metabolism working properly and your immune system healthy.
Let’s travel somewhere over the rainbow and check out some of the health benefits of colorful foods:
The vibrant color of red in foods such as tomatoes, watermelon and red grapefruit come from lycopene, which is a compound in the family known as carotenoids. Carotenoids are fat soluble compounds that give foods their red, orange or yellow pigments. They act as antioxidants in the body, and protect our cells against damage. Studies have associated tomato consumption with a decreased risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease. For better absorption of carotenoids, consume them with some healthy fats such as coconut oil or grass-fed butter.
Raspberries have been in the spotlight because of their raspberry ketones which have been purported to fight obesity. Studies with rats, mice and also lab studies of human cells, have shown some promise that the compounds can slow down lipogenesis, or the creation of fat by the liver, which is then stored in fat cells. Since studies with people are not conclusive yet, I would stick to the whole fruit instead of supplements. Besides the ketones, the myriad of micronutrients in the berries have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as well as vitamin C, manganese and fiber. Plus, they taste better than tablets!
Red foods: cherries, red raspberries, pomegranates, red peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, strawberries, radishes, apples, cranberries, guavas
What red food did you eat today?
Like the reds, the orange foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash and cantaloupe also contain carotenoids. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that give foods an orange color, and it is converted to vitamin A in the body. Acting as an antioxidant, beta carotene can scavenge the free radical molecules that damage cells and accelerate aging. Vitamin A encourages a strong immune system by helping to support the function of our white blood cells. It also promotes bone growth, and helps regulate cell growth and division. Two other carotenoids found in orange foods are lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for healthy vision. It is thought they may be protective in eye disease because they absorb damaging blue light that enters the eye. Hence the age-old wives’ tale of eating carrots for healthy eyes.
Orange foods: carrots, pumpkin, oranges, sweet potatoes, orange peppers, butternut squash, grapefruit, mango, papaya, cantaloupe
Can you think of a new way to add an orange food to your diet?
Egg yolks contain the beneficial carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which support good vision. They also contain choline, which is important for the health of our cell membranes, as well our body’s methylation process, which helps build DNA, assists detoxification in the liver, and helps brain signaling.
Yellow squashes contain carotenoids, like the orange foods, and they are good sources of vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, copper, potassium, folate, many of the B vitamins as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
Pineapples contain bromelain, which is an enzyme that helps with digestion. They also have loads of vitamin C as well as manganese, a trace mineral important for the integrity of our bones and skin.
Yellow foods: lemons, yellow squash, bananas, wax beans, spaghetti squash, pineapple, yellow peppers, star fruit, peaches, egg yolks
How about trying a yellow fruit or vegetable you’ve never had before?
Green veggies contain an impressive list of nutrients, including vitamins A, E and C, potassium, fiber, and folate. Green leafy vegetables lead to the production of more nitric oxide in the body, which opens up blood vessels and improves circulation. Green foods also contain chlorophyll, the chemical plants use to harness the sun’s energy and make food. Green plants energize our body when we eat them, and the chlorophyll detoxifies our system of harmful chemicals. Even having an extra half cup of green veggies a day can reduce your risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Green foods: broccoli, leafy greens (kale, swiss chard, arugula, bok choy, spinach, red and green leaf lettuce, collard greens, Romaine), kiwis, peas, green beans, green peppers, cucumbers, celery, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, avocados, artichokes
Why not sneak some dark leafy greens into a smoothie for an added nutritional boost?
Most people don’t get enough of the blue and purple foods. A study of 1500 people showed that 88% lacked foods in these colors. Foods that are blue and purple contain flavonoids, which may help keep our blood flowing smoothly and our brain functioning properly. They also contain chemicals called proanthocyanidins, which are much more than just antioxidants. They are necessary for proper brain function, and they actually go into the brain areas that are responsible for learning and memory. Proanthocyanidins encourage the elimination of toxins from the neurons, and they help cells to regenerate.
Blue foods: blueberries, blackberries, figs, currents, black beans, blue potatoes, blue corn
How about giving your yogurt additional nutrition with some fresh blueberries?
Resveratrol has gotten a lot of press lately, as a polyphenol chemical in purple grapes (and red wine) as well as blueberries and cranberries. In animal studies, resveratrol has been shown to improve both insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles. In studies with humans, supplementation lowered fasting glucose and insulin levels, while it raised HDL-cholesterol levels and lowed LDL-cholesterol.
Beets are a favorite ‘purple/red’ veggie of mine. Aside from the potential to fight inflammation, lower blood pressure and boost stamina, beets are high in vitamin C and fiber, and the betalin pigments they contain help support the detoxification process that happens in your liver.
Purple foods: plums, eggplant, purple grapes, purple potatoes, purple cabbage, radicchio, purple asparagus, beets
Can you think of another healthy purple food?
We can’t talk about the color spectrum without mentioning pure white light, which contains all the colors of the rainbow. We definitely want to try to avoid highly processed white foods like white bread, cakes, cookies and donuts, but many whole white foods contain lots of good nutrition. They say, “cauliflower is the new kale” and since it is one of the cruciferous vegetables loaded with the cancer-fighting sulphoraphane, why not try it mashed, grilled, broiled or barbecued? There are even recipes for pizza with a cauliflower crust.
Onions and garlic have compounds that can help fight off infections. They have flavonoids that may keep your arteries flexible, and might help lower blood pressure and protect against heart disease. In addition, the American Institute of Cancer Research says the chemicals in onions and garlic can slow or stop cancer cells from proliferating.
White foods: onions, garlic, shallots, cauliflower, cabbage, mushrooms, Navy beans, parsnips, turnips, pears
How about cooking a white food in a way you haven’t before?
So, start decorating your plate with the colors of the rainbow. Encourage your family, your children, and any other little people you know to add colorful foods to their diet. It’s the best way to grow up healthy, ensuring a strong immune system, one that can defend us against the challenges of our modern environment and lifestyle. Like Jay Mankita says, start living in a colorful way, and eat like a rainbow every day!