Eat, Drink, & Be…Healthy?
Rainbow flags, hats, t-shirts, and stickers feed the pride spirit, but what about the pride body? Turns out, the rainbow is good for that as well.
The idea of “eating the rainbow”—consuming vegetables and fruits from across the color spectrum—has been around for a while. It makes sense that the color of a food might indicate its nutritional content and that eating a variety of colors might offer a range of health benefits.* But now, science is providing proof.
I first learned the significance of color in vegetables at a pediatrician’s visit following concern over my infant son’s decidedly orange complexion. Jaundice? Trump’s makeup regimen? Nope. Just a strong preference for carrots, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and…did I mention carrots? Orange vegetables are rich in beta-carotene and too much of it can actually turn your skin orange. Fortunately, the tangerine tint was temporary.
Mom told you to eat your vegetables and she was right. Inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables is a leading modifiable dietary risk factor for death and contributes to the rise in both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Turns out, some of the most potent health benefits of foods come from the phytochemicals that are also responsible for their color. And the more vibrant, the better.
In June 2022, a team of scientists reviewed 86 studies that contained data from over 37 million participants. They found that the health outcomes associated with eating varied color vegetables and fruits included body weight, lipid profile (cholesterol and such), inflammation, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and mortality (death).
Here are some of the benefits provided by the colorful phytochemicals in vegetables and fruits:
Red (Lycopene): improves heart health, decreases prostate and breast cancer risk, contributes to stroke prevention, and increases brain function; prevents and even fights cancer, especially prostate and breast; is good for urinary tract health and for memory. Sources: tomatoes, beets, radishes, cherries, strawberries, red onions, and red peppers
Orange/Yellow (Carotenoids): reduces the risk of heart disease and inflammation; strengthens the immune system; keeps skin healthy; improves vision. Sources: carrots, squash, apricots, yellow peppers, sweet potatoes, bananas, pineapple, mangoes, pumpkins, peaches, and oranges
Green (Lutein and other): prevents cataracts and slows age-related macular degeneration; keeps bones, teeth, and nails strong; helps prevent blood clots. Sources: spinach, arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, avocadoes, kiwis, asparagus, kale, and artichokes
Blue/Purple (Anthocyanins): improves brain health and memory; reduces blood pressure and lowers the risk of stroke and heart disease; helps fight cancers, especially those in the GI tract (mouth, esophagus, colon). Sources: blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, figs, cabbage, concord grapes, and plums
White/Tan (Allicin): lowers cholesterol and blood pressure; improves bone strength; decreases risk of stomach cancer. Sources: onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, garlic, and leeks
This Thanksgiving: Deliciously Easy Ways to Eat the Rainbow
Fill a bowl with multi-colored mini sweet peppers (with or without herb cheese filling) or slices of red, purple, orange, green, and yellow bell pepper and serve with your favorite dip.
Rainbow Groaning Board
On a large food-safe board, arrange a combination of colorful fruits and vegetables. Some possibilities include red or purple grapes, red or yellow cherry tomatoes, broccoli or cauliflower florets, pomegranate seeds, dried apricots, sliced mango or kiwi, blueberries, raspberries, figs, sliced bell peppers, quartered mushrooms, asparagus spears, radishes, pea pods, artichoke hearts, nuts, and olives. Serve with small bowls of guacamole, pimento cheese, onion dip, dipping oil, or seasoned salt. (Check out “rainbow groaning boards” on Pinterest for design ideas.)
Instead of (or in addition to) loading your skewers with hunks of meat, try square pieces of colorful bell peppers and red onion, slices of zucchini and yellow squash, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. Broil or put on a grill, basting periodically with a marinade.
Pour ½ cup olive oil in a small pan and heat on low. Add 1 minced garlic clove and ½ teaspoon dried herbs (e.g., marjoram, oregano, thyme, basil). Cook until garlic is soft but not brown. Turn off heat. Slice a selection of yellow squash and zucchini, eggplant, large mushrooms, onion, and colorful peppers. Cook on a grill or in a grill pan in batches, using a brush to baste with the seasoned oil. Cook until done, turning periodically. (It’s easier to cook one type of vegetable at a time.) Salt to taste and serve hot or cold. They keep well and are great in sandwiches (try warm with goat cheese).
*Sorry. M&Ms and Skittles don’t count. This applies only to natural colors found in plants. ▼
Nancy Sakaduski is an award-winning writer and editor who owns Cat & Mouse Press in Lewes, Delaware.