Eat the Rainbow: Foster Good Health Through a Whole Foods Diet

Consuming whole foods is the best way to maintain optimal health through diet. While cutting the junk out of your regimen will help you lose weight, fight off inflammation, and improve stomach bacteria, just following a whole foods diet might not give you optimal nutrition benefits. Our body depends on micronutrients to act as catalysts for energy to perform vital bodily functions. The best way to incorporate as many nutrients as possible into your diet is to eat the rainbow.

What Does Eat the Rainbow Mean?

Eating the rainbow doesn’t mean to chow down on a bag of Skittles. While you would technically be consuming every color in the rainbow, these tart candies are formulated with artificial ingredients. Suffice to say; Skittles don’t jive on a whole foods diet.

When you eat the rainbow, it means you are incorporating a variety of foods that share the same colors as the rainbow.

Therefore, eating the rainbow means that the following colors should appear on your plate during your meals:

eat the rainbow
Eat Skittles in theory, not in reality
  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • White
  • Violet

Foods varying in colors have differing degrees of nutrients. In some cases, these foods have minerals that other popular culinary options might be lacking. When you eat the rainbow, you cover those gaps and set yourself up for a healthier lifestyle.

Why You Should Eat the Rainbow

A food’s hue is one of the few ways that non-sentient beings can communicate with us. By looking at its flesh, we can determine some of the key nutritional characteristics of a fruit or vegetable.

What you get is what you see

Pigment compounds are potent antioxidants. Higher levels of certain compounds will give popular foods their particular color.

For instance, carrots and sweet potatoes have an abundance of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is responsible for these vegetables’ familiar hue. However, beta-carotene is also essential for repairing sun-related skin conditions and preventing ultraviolet (UV) damage [1].

When you eat the rainbow, you provide your body with trace minerals that it might be lacking. It’s an all-natural way to boost your immune system because you’re not over-inundating the body with the same compounds over and over again. Therefore, your immune cells get a more well-rounded backup. Inevitably, you’ll feel healthier, including fewer GI problems and a stronger defense against illness.

How to Eat the Rainbow

Making lifestyle changes, such as choosing to eat the rainbow, may take you outside of your comfort zone. However, these are the moments where you will see the most improvement in your life. So, let us explain how to eat the rainbow so you can reap the most nutrition out of your meals.

Spread Colors Out Over Meals

Eating the rainbow isn’t as tricky as it sounds. Just make sure you have a wide variety of colors interjected into your meal plans. You don’t need to have them all in one meal. Just be sure that you get at least one fruit or vegetable of each color in throughout the day.

Switch Up Your Color Sources

Obviously, the greater the variety of foods you eat, the better off your system will be. Sure, Brussels sprouts and broccoli are both green. However, they have differing levels of iron, potassium, and calories.

Then there are the trace minerals we don’t even think about. Broccoli has an abundance of pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) when compared to Brussels sprouts. This B-Vitamin is essential for healthy hair [2]. Therefore, someone trying to improve skin-related wellness would benefit from extra broccoli over Brussels sprouts.

Eat Whole Foods

not a way to eat the rainbow
Not what we had in mind for eating the rainbow

Make sure you are eating as many whole foods as possible. Packaged products may have color. However, they also come with a litany of added ingredients. In fact, their “colors” are part of the problem! Not to mention, the plastic packaging they come in can also do a number on our system.

For best results, try to eat as many raw foods as possible. When we cook our foods, the pressure causes chemical changes. One of these alterations is the death of nutrients.

An analysis by The New York Times found,

“Water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin B and a group of nutrients called polyphenolics seem to be the most vulnerable to degradation in processing and cooking. Canned peas and carrots lose 85 to 95 percent of their natural Vitamin C. After six months, another study showed that frozen cherries lost as much as 50 percent of anthocyanins, the nutrients found in the dark pigments of fruits and vegetables. Cooking removes about two-thirds of the vitamin C in fresh spinach [3].”

New York Times
eat the rainbow frozen fruit
Frozen food is clutch in a whole foods diet

Interestingly enough, the article also noted that frozen fruits and veggies had higher nutritional value than whole foods bought from the produce aisle.

The reason why is that nutrients begin oxidizing the moment the food source is picked.

It loses even more value in transit from to store to counter to belly. Freezing slows down this dying process, further maintaining the food’s nutritional value.

Eat the Rainbow Benefits

Benefits you get when you eat the rainbow range from color to color. Each pigment has a unique interaction with the system. That’s why it’s best to have a revolving variety of food sources. Let’s take a look at the benefits of each color when eating the rainbow.

Red Food Benefits

You need a little extra energy to get to the top of the rainbow. That’s why so many red foods contain a wide variety of beneficial nutrients. One in particular that gives red benefits when you eat the rainbow is known as lycopene.

Lycopene

The primary compound to give red-hued foods their vibrant hue is lycopene. This carotenoid plays a monumental role in combating Leaky Gut Syndrome and, ultimately, an autoimmune disease.

Research shows that lycopene significantly disrupts the growth of free radicals within our system. Really, it’s our body’s greatest defense mechanism against these cancer catalysts.

One analysis noted,

“Lycopene is the most potent antioxidant among pigments (e.g. from the most potent to the least potent antioxidants are: lycopene, α-tocopherol, α-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin=β-carotene, and lutein) [4].”

Cell J.

In fact, one study found that lycopene was twice as effective in preserving DNA than beta-carotene [5]! With these benefits, lycopene can also prevent free radicals from damaging elastin along the gut lining. Therefore, lycopene may assist collagen in repairing the gut barrier.

Another analysis notes that red foods in an eat the rainbow diet can also help reproductive organs.

Highest levels of lycopene are found in:

Therefore, people who are having issues with infertility may want to up their red-food intake.

Some of the best red foods that are rich in lycopene include:

eat the rainbow kimchi
Red cabbage kimchi is an
excellent proboiotic snack
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Red Cabbage
  • Papaya
  • Grapefruit
  • Sundried Tomato

Up your lycopene intake by eating fermented red cabbage, like kimchi. This probiotic treat will not only provide you with nutrition, but it can also introduce beneficial stomach bacteria to your system.

You might find it odd that a superfood such as strawberries wasn’t on this list. Shockingly, these red fruits have very low levels of lycopene. We’ll discuss where strawberries can be grouped a little later.

Orange Food Benefits

The carotenoids responsible for orange-colored foods are two primary carotene molecules–alpha-carotene and beta-carotene.

Alpha-Carotene

Alpha-carotene has strong antioxidant capabilities that can improve your quality of life. One study looked at the alpha-carotene intake of 15,318 adults over a 14-year period [6]. During the course of this study, 3,810 participants passed away. Researchers found the higher levels of this antioxidant in the system, the longer the person’s lifespan tended to be.

Compared to intake of alpha-carotene that reached between 0 and 1 mcg/dL, life expectancy increased with more servings of alpha-carotene as follows:

  • 2-3 mcg/dL – 23%
  • 4-5 mcg/dL – 27%
  • 6-8 mcg/dL – 34%
  • 9+ mcg/dL – 39%

So, the more alpha-carotene foods you consume, the greater chance you have of living a longer (and healthier) existence.

Beta-Carotene

On top of alpha-carotene, the other beneficial pigment found in orange foods is beta-carotene. This molecule is the precursor to Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for many functions, including strengthening our eyesight.

Some of the best sources of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene include:

Homemade sweet potato fries– a healthy guilty pleasure
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Apricots
  • Squash
  • Bell Peppers

An excellent way to up your orange intake is to add some carrots or bell peppers to your next stir-fry. Use pumpkin puree as a thickening agent when baking. Perhaps alternate your apple a day with an apricot or serving or cantaloupe?

Yellow Food Benefits

As you reach the middle of our edible rainbow, you will start to receive anti-inflammatory benefits. Some of the compounds that give foods a yellow hue include lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptothanxin.

Lutein and Zaexanthin

Like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin play a significant role in maintaining eye health. These minerals tend to hang out in the macula. This area is the most sensitive part of the retina. It’s also the first to become damaged by blue light.

Studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula block blue light from causing oxidative stress that leads to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) [7].

As a tidbit, too much screen time subjects us to retina-damaging blue light. It can also throw off our circadian rhythm and sleep cycles. So, if you are having trouble sleeping, try upping your yellow food intake.

Curcuminoids in Turmeric

When you eat the rainbow of yellow foods, you will also receive anti-inflammatory benefits. One of the most potent yellow foods is turmeric. This rhizome is unique in that it has curcuminoids that give the Indian root its vibrant yellow hue. However, research shows that these heart-healthy molecules can do more than just dye fabric [8].

Studies suggest curcumin can prohibit the following pro-inflammatory biomarkers:

  • Phospholipase
  • Lipooxygenase
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • Leukotrienes
  • Thromboxane
  • Prostaglandins
  • Monocyte Chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1)
  • Interferon-inducible Protein
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF)
  • Interleukin-12 (IL-12)

Some of the best yellow foods you should choose to eat the rainbow are:

Turmeric ginger latte FTW
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Pineapple
  • Corn
  • Mustard Greens
  • Turnips
  • Honeydew
  • Avocado
  • Eggs
  • Gold Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Salmon

Mixing and match yellow-orange and yellow-green foods into your diet can really help you get a wide variety of nutrients. Whip up a mango salsa to pair with your salmon. Create an avocado pesto to enjoy with whole wheat pasta. Make a turmeric latte to go with eggs for breakfast. There are many ways to get your yellow on when you eat the rainbow!

Green Food Benefits

Perhaps no portion of the eat the rainbow spectrum is more feared than the greens. We hated them as a child, and the adult in us tends to put it off. However, greens are perhaps the most nutrient-dense food sources in the color wheel.

K and B-Vitamins

Greens are an excellent source of Vitamin K and B-Vitamins. These minerals are essential for blood cell production and DNA formation. So, make sure you get plenty of greens in your diet.

Indoles

Greens also contain an abundance of indoles. These phytochemicals are essential for producing pivotal neurotransmitters, such as serotonin [9]. So, while looking at greens might make you feel anxious, eating them is actually good for your mental health!

Consuming greens also serves as an excellent source of prebiotics for your probiotics. There are many dietary fibers in green foods that are hard for our bodies to produce. Therefore, beneficial stomach bacteria will eat them to create energy. Furthermore, probiotic bacteria also create indole metabolites.

A study on the benefits of indoles stated,

“While indole is a major intercellular signal within the gut microbial ecosystem, it also interacts with the gut epithelium. Cell culture experiments have shown that it modulates the secretion of glucagon-like peptide 1 by mouse entero-endocrine L cells, and induces genes promoting tight-junction resistance and an anti-inflammatory cytokine profile in the human HCT-8 cell line derived from enterocytes [10].”

Front Neurosci

As suggested by the results, eating greens can actually improve your gut motility. By producing hormones that regulate the tight junctions, we are less susceptible to developing GI conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Green Foods to Eat

Stock up on the following greens to eat the rainbow:

eat the rainbow greens
So many ways to eat your greens
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Spirulina
  • Bok Choy
  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Edamame
  • Chives
  • Peas
  • Jalapeño

The easiest way to get your greens in to eat salads. However, don’t opt for the nearly nutrient-deficient iceberg lettuce. Switch it up with some collard greens or watercress.

Furthermore, start using fresh herbs in cooking. Cut up some basil and put it in your water. Throw jalapeños and chives into your guac. Get your green on any way possible!

White Food Benefits

In terms of light, white encompasses all of the colors on the spectrum. Therefore, white foods are super-nutritious. Sure, we might stay away from white rice and white sugar. However, there are many nutritious white foods you can chow down on when you eat the rainbow.

White foods have an earthy flavor that is caused by a variety of flavonoids. In particular, these foods have an abundance of quercetin and kaempferol.

Quercetin

Quercetin is a potent antioxidant. In addition to its free radical-busting properties, quercetin has shown to improve respiratory problems caused by allergies [11].

Research suggests quercetin works like an over-the-counter antihistamine. Its presence prevents cells from secreting histamines into the system that fosters allergic reactions.

Kaempferol

Kaempferol is ideal for improving blood circulation and heart health. In vitro studies show that this antioxidant monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP-1) [12]. MCP-1 is one of the primary biomarkers for atherosclerosis [13].

Atherosclerosis is when plaques build up in the arteries, creating roadblocks for red blood cells commuting back to the heart. Many people develop atherosclerosis due to excess of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

One of the most efficient ways for your body to rid itself of excess LDL cholesterol is through the activation of LDL receptors (LDLR). LDLR oxidizes LDL cholesterol at a faster rate, so it leaves the system.

White Foods to Eat

You can find quercetin and kaempferol rich foods with:

Onions and garlic
make everything better
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Coconut
  • White Grape Wine
  • Leeks
  • Yogurt
  • Cauliflower
  • Scallions
  • Celery
  • Endives
  • Peas
  • Jicama
  • Mushrooms
  • Parsnips
  • Bananas

Onion and garlic of some of the fragrant spices. Try sauteing them in coconut oil with bell peppers. Replace one of your beef dinners with a portabello mushroom one night per week. Opt for a banana yogurt smoothie for energy instead of another coffee. There are many ways to get your whites in!

Violet Foods

Sort of like green has some overlaps with yellow and white; violet foods take in foods that are mixtures of blue and red. So, here you will find strawberries. However, you’ll also see blueberries here…and they even have blue in their name!

Anthocyanins

how to stimulate the vagus nerve
Anthocyanins and vagus nerve stimulation can improve your mood and cognition

What determines the intensity of the dark hues on fruits and vegetables comes down to a group of antioxidants known as anthocyanins. These powerful antioxidants are actually what help leaves transition colors in the fall [14].

As the leaves die, built-up sugar from the sap produces anthocyanins. This reaction is triggered by a lack of phosphate within the tree’s system.

As for humans, these blue pigments can do wonders for neurological health. Studies on the purple sweet potato found that anthocyanins mirrored DPPH radical scavenging [15]. That means, these antioxidants sort of swept up potential free radicals.

In addition, the purple sweet potato anthocyanin (SPA) also prohibited lipid peroxidation. This process is one of the first steps to losing pivotal fats that make up a healthy brain.

The results of the purple sweet potato study found,

“SPA markedly enhanced cognitive performance, assessed by passive avoidance test in ethanol-treated mice. Combined treatments with SPA and CME (Cordyceps mushroom extract) did not significantly influence the effects of SPA alone. These results demonstrate that anthocyanin prepared from purple sweet potato exhibits memory enhancing effects, which may be associated with its antioxidant properties.”

Arch Pharm Res. 

Compared to its control, the anthocyanin seemed to do all the heavy lifting. Now, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to consume purple foods to eat the rainbow.

Violet Foods to Eat

It’s very easy to get your anthocyanin on. There are many foods with an abundance of these neuroprotectors. Rule of the thumb, the darker the skin, the more antioxidant content.

Some of the best violet foods to eat include:

eat the rainbow
So many colors, so much time to eat them all!
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Red Cabbage
  • Purple Sweet Potatoes
  • Purple Carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Rhubarb
  • Beets
  • Goji Berries
  • Açaí
  • Tomatoes
  • Currants
  • Apples
  • Blue Corn
  • Plums

Now, if you are battling conditions like IBS or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), you might want to stay away from some of these foods. Members of the nightshade family, such as eggplant and tomatoes, may set off GI problems.

You can still benefit from purple sweet potatoes, which with “yams” are the only types of potatoes that aren’t apart of the nightshade family. Plus, everyone can benefit from a beet salad with Gorgonzola cheese, red cabbage slaw with apple cider vinegar, or strawberries and rhubarb with gluten-free grains.

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thryve gut health food recommendations
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Resources

[1] Stahl, Wilhelm, and Helmut Sies. “β-Carotene and Other Carotenoids in Protection from Sunlight.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23053552.

[2] Goluch-Koniuszy Z. S. (2016). Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause. Przeglad menopauzalny = Menopause review15(1), 56–61. doi:10.5114/pm.2016.58776

[3] Parker-pope, Tara. “Ask Well: Does Boiling or Baking Vegetables Destroy Their Vitamins?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Oct. 2013, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/ask-well-does-boiling-or-baking-vegetables-destroy-their-vitamins/.

[4] Pirayesh Islamian, J., & Mehrali, H. (2015). Lycopene as a carotenoid provides radioprotectant and antioxidant effects by quenching radiation-induced free radical singlet oxygen: an overview. Cell journal16(4), 386–391. doi:10.22074/cellj.2015.485

[5] Di Mascio, P, et al. “Lycopene as the Most Efficient Biological Carotenoid Singlet Oxygen Quencher.” Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Nov. 1989, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2802626.

[6] “High Alpha-Carotene Levels Associated with Longer Life.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 23 Nov. 2010, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101122172121.htm.

[7] Junghans, A, et al. “Macular Pigments Lutein and Zeaxanthin as Blue Light Filters Studied in Liposomes.” Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 July 2001, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11437346.

[8] Chainani-Wu, Nita. “Safety and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Curcumin: a Component of Tumeric (Curcuma Longa).” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12676044.

[9] Konopelski, Piotr, and Marcin Ufnal. “Indoles – Gut Bacteria Metabolites of Tryptophan with Pharmacotherapeutic Potential.” Current Drug Metabolism, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29708069.

[10] Jaglin, M., Rhimi, M., Philippe, C., Pons, N., Bruneau, A., Goustard, B., … Rabot, S. (2018). Indole, a Signaling Molecule Produced by the Gut Microbiota, Negatively Impacts Emotional Behaviors in Rats. Frontiers in neuroscience12, 216. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00216

[11] Rogerio, A P, et al. “Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Quercetin and Isoquercitrin in Experimental Murine Allergic Asthma.” Inflammation Research : Official Journal of the European Histamine Research Society … [Et Al.], U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18026696.

[12] Kowalski, Jan, et al. “Effect of Kaempferol on the Production and Gene Expression of Monocyte Chemoattractant Protein-1 in J774.2 Macrophages.” Pharmacological Reports : PR, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15849384.

[13] Linton MRF, Yancey PG, Davies SS, et al. The Role of Lipids and Lipoproteins in Atherosclerosis. [Updated 2019 Jan 3]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK343489/

[14] Klein, Joanna. “Why Does Fall Foliage Turn So Red and Fiery? It Depends.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Oct. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/science/leaves-fall-foliage-colors-red.html.