Eat the Rainbow Challenge

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

June is Pride month and I thought it was the perfect time to revive the Eat the Rainbow Challenge! This challenge is all about embracing diversity and inclusion, just like Pride month!

What does eating the rainbow actually mean and why should we do it? We know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but do you know why it is so important to get every color of the rainbow into your diet?

Our ancestors used to eat thousands of different varieties of foods, yet the average American today eats less than 30. We cannot possibly get the full spectrum of available nutrients necessary to fuel our body like a high performance machine if we only eat pizza, pasta, and sandwiches. In fact, when we overeat one food group we can actually develop allergies to that food. Just look at what has happened to gluten from the over consumption of refined white four.

The trick is to think of the rainbow and eat as many different fruits and vegetables from the colors along the spectrum. From deep reds full of lycopene to the antioxidant blues and nutritional powerhouse greens, our bodies thrive on the diversity of nutrients available in the many different colors.

Eat the Rainbow Challenge

Over the next few weeks try to incorporate as many new fruits and vegetables as possible with our Eat the Rainbow Challenge.

Below, you will see a small deep dive on the benefits of each color.


Red

Deep red pigments are often high in vitamin C and flavonoids, both known for their antioxidant properties. Diets high in antioxidants have been linked with preventing cancer even by very conservative groups such as the American Cancer Society.


Is Lasagna a Health Food?

Lycopene is a red pigmented antioxidant, which has also been recognized as preventing cancer. Lycopene is actually better absorbed when the vegetable is cooked and accompanied by a small amount of healthy fat. Wait a minute, this may make lasagna begin to look like a healthy food, which we all know is not usually the case. However, I would argue that if made properly, a homemade brown rice noodle by Jovial with fresh tomato sauce, artisanal mozzarella, and a healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil is indeed a nutrient dense meal.

Try my lasagna recipe here!

What About Beans?

Many red berries and beans contain anthocyanin, another antioxidant recognized as a powerful, therapeutic nutrient that can lower blood pressure. The reason Paleo foodies omit beans is that many of their nutrients are indigestible. However, traditional foodies soak and ferment the beans which unlocks the nutrient profile of the bean, making it not only digestible, but nutritious. Soaking beans can seem like a bother, but it is very simple and very worth it. Try my easy peasy recipe for properly prepared beans.


Red Fruits and Vegetables

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Bell Peppers
  • Blood Oranges
  • Cabbage
  • Cayenne Peppers
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Pomegranate
  • Radicchio
  • Radishes
  • Raspberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Ruby Red Grapefruit
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon

Fresh produce is important, not only because of the fiber, but nutrients are lost from the moment the fruit is picked. Thus, an apple that is stored in a shipping cargo for a few weeks and then in the grocery store for a few months has much less nutrients to offer. For this reason, I highly encourage shopping for only the produce that is in season and picked locally. 

Orange 

Let’s talk about vibrant orange fruits and vegetables. Orange plants are known for their beta-carotene, an antioxidant that promotes eye health, brain health, and can prevent the skin from sun damage.


Think Spiderman Eyes


When kids eat carrots and sweet potatoes, I explain how they will have the power of Spiderman eyes. Orange plants have beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, which promotes night vision. Vitamin A can neutralize free radicals in the body, and is crucial in building a healthy immune system. Vit A is fat soluble which means it only occurs naturally in fats. Therefore, if you eat low fat foods, or are watching your fat intake, you could be deficient in Vit A.


Vitamin C is also prevalent in many orange fruits and vegetables. Vit A and Vit C are star players when building a healthy immune system. The combination is also beneficial when rebuilding collagen in the skin, as in recovering from a sunburn.


From fresh oranges to roasted sweet potatoes, I’m sure there is an orange fruit and vegetable for everyone to love. 


Orange Fruits and Vegetables

  • Butternut Squash
  • Cantaloupe
  • Guava
  • Loquat
  • Kumquats
  • Mandarins
  • Mango
  • Nectarines
  • Orange Bell Peppers
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Persimmon
  • Peach
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tangelo
  • Tangerines
  • Winter Squash


As with lycopene from the red foods, beta carotene is also more easily absorbed when cooked. However, Vit C is delicate and can be slightly damaged when cooked. Thus, it’s important to eat a combination of raw and cooked orange vegetables to get the best of both worlds.

Yellow


There is nothing more cheerful than eating foods the color of sunshine. Full of sweetness, yellow produce tastes like it has been kissed by the sun. Some of the most therapeutic foods for building a healthy food foundation are yellow including lemons, pineapples, onions, and turmeric.


Lemons are packed full of vitamin C and can make the flavors in a dish pop to perfection. Lemons are full of 22 cancer preventing compounds and lemon oil is a natural antibacterial that can clean out the intestines. Although lemon juice is acidic, it alkalizes the body and should be enjoyed on a daily basis to promote healthy detoxification. Lemons can be eaten skin and all, simply grate the skin into a sauce or dish for some lemon zest or throw half a lemon through the juicer with your next vegetable juice.


Here is a list of yellow fruits and vegetables to add to your recipes this week.


Yellow Produce

  • lemons
  • bananas
  • crookneck squash
  • pineapple
  • delicata squash
  • star fruit
  • mangoes
  • endive
  • yellow peppers
  • onions
  • chamomile
  • yellow tomatoes
  • yellow cauliflower
  • yellow romanesco
  • turmeric
  • mustard seeds
  • spaghetti squash
  • crenshaw melon


Green


If you really want the most bang for your buck, buy this color vegetable and eat one everyday. This food group is the most nutrient dense color and supplies the body with a healthy immune system, a healthy heart, and healthy outlook on life. Do you know what it is?


Greens Lower Cholesterol

Better than a pharmaceutical, eating dark leafy greens will lower your cholesterol levels naturally. The fibers and minerals in greens bind to bile, which is made of cholesterol, and removes it from your body.


Greens Prevent the Growth of Cancers

Green vegetables are full of antioxidants that remove free radicals from the body and can stop the growth of cancerous cells. Brassicas, such as broccoli and cabbages have high sulfur enzyme counts and can prevent cancerous growths in the colon, whereas greens with high folate such as spinach have been shown to reduce pancreatic cancers. These particulars are why it’s important to eat a wide variety.


Greens Improve Your Mood

This is fascinating, but complicated, so please follow along carefully. B vitamins are very important to convert carbohydrates to glucose and increase energy levels. B vitamins are also precursors to neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin that makes us feel happy and peaceful. We do not store B vitamins well so we need to ingest them everyday. We can eat them in animal proteins, especially liver and eggs and our gut bacteria actually uses green vegetable fibers and whole grains that make it all the way to the large intestine to MAKE B vitamins. These fibrous foods are called PREbiotics because they feed the probiotics which convert them into B vitamins, isn't that amazing?


Greens Can Prevent Osteoporosis

Did you know broccoli can have more calcium than a glass of milk? Especially if you're drinking skim milk because skim does not have enough fat soluble vitamin D to unlock the calcium absorption in your bones. Dark leafy greens have high amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium and other minerals needed to build healthy bones so they are more important than drinking your milk.


Greens are the most unloved vegetable group in our country with most people just dabbling in iceberg lettuce at the local chain restaurant. I challenge you this week to reach out of your comfort zone and buy 7 dark green vegetables or herbs and include one of them in a home cooked meal every day.


Don't forget to add a high quality  fat to those greens. The fat soluble vitamins in butter, olive oil, avocados, eggs, and animal fat can improve your chances of absorbing those nutrients in the greens. Some green vegetables are so amazing they have their own built in fats and proteins too. Sunflower sprouts have healthy fats and peas are full of proteins.


Healthy Green Vegetables List

  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Lettuces
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Escarole
  • Turnip greens
  • Beet Greens
  • Watercress
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Frisee
  • Artichokes
  • Cucumbers

Here are some of Food Foundation’s recipes to get your green on.


Blue and Purple

Eating blue and purple foods should be a piece of cake. These lustrous gems are not only full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories known for reducing the symptoms of disease, but they taste DELICIOUS!

Studies by the USDA have named blueberries as the number one antioxidant rich fruit. Antioxidants prevent oxidative cell damage which can lead to Alzheimer's, heart disease, and cancerous cells.


Improve Your Memory

The particular antioxidant in blue and dark purple foods is anthocyanin. Studies have shown that 1 cup of wild blueberries a day have improved aging memory cells in humans. Anxious about losing your memory? You may need to step up your blueberry or blackberry consumption.


Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Flavonoids are plant metabolites, hmmm sounds like metabolism, right? Yes, it means these compounds metabolize or "eat" the bacteria in arteries maintaining a healthy cardiovascular disease. In English, this means eating your dark fruits and vegetables everyday can improve circulation and reduce the risk of heart disease.


No More Urinary Tract Infections (UTI's)

You may have heard that cranberries are good for UTI's? This is due to the same process by which the flavonoids "eat" the bacteria from the uterine wall. We know that sugar feeds these bacteria, so it is important to eat dark lustrous cranberries and avoid the sugary juices.


How Blues and Purples Prevent Cancer

When we ingest toxins our cells may oxidize and release free radicals or free roaming oxygen molecules. Antioxidants come to the rescue and "eat" or neutralize these free radicals, preventing them from damaging cells and causing cancerous tumors. The best way to avoid free radical damage is to load up on antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables so eat 1 full serving of blues and purples a day.


Dark Blue and Purple Produce

  • Borage the edible starflower
  • Blue corn
  • Blue potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Purple plums
  • Eggplant
  • Figs
  • Purple potatoes
  • Purple grapes
  • Prunes
  • Dark cranberries

It’s important to eat as many different antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables as possible. We are advised to eat 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, but I’m challenging you to eat 6 servings of vegetables to maximize your health and 1 serving of fruit to make sure your fructose levels are not through the roof. Most importantly, eat the rainbow and get your full spectrum of nutrition everyday.