Eat Healthy With a Rainbow of Foods Each Day

Updated on August 15, 2017
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

It Began In a Carpool

In 1996 James Joseph and Ronald Prior were working for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Human Nutrition Research Center. And they carpooled together.

If you have ever shared a ride with co-workers, you probably know that conversation to and from the workplace typically centers on current news, the weather, whatever sport is in season, pets, or children. (Hot-button topics like religion and politics are best saved for Facebook).

But Drs. Joseph and Prior talked about work. One lively discussion centered on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity) test, a test that measures antioxidant activity in body tissues.

That discussion gave birth to an idea; Dr. Prior began to study antioxidant levels not in the body but in the foods we eat. In a nutshell (no pun intended), this is what he found:

It turns out the fruits and vegetables with the highest ORAC levels were the most colorful.

— Ronald Prior, PhD, chemist and nutritionist

What is an Antioxidant?

That’s a good question. First break the word down into two parts; anti means “against” and then there is “oxidant” You might be thinking “oxygen, that’s good.” But consider the word “oxidation.” Oxidation is what happens when sliced apples turn brown, aluminum screen doors become pitted, and car parts rust.

Anti (against) oxidants (rusting) help keep you from getting “rusty.” In other words, they can slow the aging process. Think of them as first-responders, rushing in, sacrificing themselves to save your healthy tissue cells from damage.

So, What Does This All Mean?

Place orange-colored foods on your plate (apricots, carrots), and you are tapping into the carotenoid, beta-carotene, one of the most powerful antioxidants. A touch of purple (blueberries, eggplant) will give you three more disease-fighting nutrients (ellagitannins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins). Red tomatoes will benefit your heart with lycopene.

The names of these powerhouse nutrition boosters are difficult to pronounce (and understand), but you don’t need to be a chemist to add them to your diet.

A Brief (But Important) Glossary

  • Anthocyanin – a blue-tinted flavonoid that boots memory and promotes healthy aging
  • Carotenoid – a phytonutrient that provides the vivid color to the yellow/orange fruits and vegetables; our body uses these compounds to produce Vitamin A
  • Ellagitannin – an antioxidant found in grapes and berries
  • Flavonoid – a phytonutrient that serves to maintain heart health and support brain function
  • Lutein – a carotenoid that promotes good eye health
  • Phytonutrients – natural, plant-based compounds
  • Proanthocyanidin – another flavonoid that promotes heart health

Plants were here long before us, and they've evolved ways to protect themselves against pathogenic disease and oxidative stress. These same phytonutrients can exert beneficial effects in people too."

— Navindra Seeram, PhD, antioxidant researcher at UCLA


Red-hued fruits and vegetables contain lycopene. Studies indicate that diets rich in in this compound could inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Dietary Sources

  • beets
  • cherries
  • cranberries
  • pomegranates
  • radicchio
  • radishes
  • raspberries
  • red bell peppers
  • red grapes
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes
  • watermelon


Orange and yellow produce contains carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, flavonoids, and Vitamin C. Studies show that these may help protect against age-related eye disease.

Dietary Sources

  • apricots
  • butternut squash
  • cantaloupe
  • corn
  • lemons
  • mangoes
  • nectarines
  • papayas
  • peaches
  • pineapples
  • pumpkin


Green-hued produce is a powerhouse of antioxidants; beta-carotenem lutein, zeaxanthinm indoles, and isothiocyanates. They're hard to say, but easy to add to your daily diet. Several studies show that they can protect against eye ailments and may play a role in keeping the carotid arteries free of plaque.

Dietary Sources

  • asparagus
  • avocado
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • green beans
  • green cabbage
  • leafy greens
  • peas
  • pears
  • zucchini


The antioxidants in blue and purple foods can ease inflammation, benefit motor function, and improve memory, targeting the hippocampus area of the brain.

Dietary Sources

  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • currants
  • eggplant
  • raisins
  • plums
  • purple potatoes


Although white and tan are not colors of the rainbow I would be remiss to ignore the antioxidant-rich foods that are not a part of the prism. Just one or two cups of cauliflower can protect against oxidative stressors.


Dietary Sources

  • bananas
  • cauliflower
  • garlic
  • jicama
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • parships
  • potatoes
  • shallots


I have used bold type to identify which ingredients in each recipe are rich in antioxidants.

Superfood Salad with Blueberry Lemon Vinaigrette



  • For the Salad:
  • 6 cups arugula (or your favorite greens)
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 3/4 cup raspberries
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • For the Dressing:
  • 3/4 cup avocado or olive oil (divided)
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • ½ teaspoon salt (+ more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. In a large bowl, pile in your greens (make sure they are rinsed) into the bowl. Now top with berries, avocado, and red onion.
  2. Make your dressing: begin by adding in 1/4 cup avocado or olive oil, blueberries, lemon, lemon zest, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and basil. Pulse in a food processor or high powered blender for 1 minute. After 1 minute, while motor is running, pour in remaining oil. Continue to pulse until dressing is well combined, and blueberries are completely incorporated.
  3. Toss dressing onto the salad (you may not use all of it and have extra), and carefully toss all ingredients of the salad with the dressing.
  4. Finally, top with walnuts and serve.

Chopped Broccoli Salad with Walnuts, Cranberries, and Balsamic



  • 2 bunches broccoli about 1.25 lbs.
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar a good, aged vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons smooth almond or peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons dry roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup walnuts coarsely chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 4-6 minutes.

For the Broccoli:

  1. Fill a large pot with enough water to completely immerse both heads of broccoli. Bring water to a boil.
  2. Fill a separate, large bowl with water and ice.
  3. Place both bunches of broccoli into boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Remove broccoli, (Carefully! It will be hot!) and blanch it by immersing each bunch into ice water for 30 seconds.
  4. Set broccoli aside to let cool. Once it has cooled enough for you to safely handle, coarsely chop broccoli and remove stems.
  5. Place chopped broccoli into a large serving bowl.

For the Balsamic Sauce:

  1. Combine balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, nut butter, olive oil and salt in a small bowl.
  2. Microwave ingredients for 20-30 seconds or until nut butter becomes smooth. Whisk to combine.

For the Assembly:

  1. Just before serving, pour balsamic sauce over chopped broccoli and sprinkle with walnuts, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries.
  2. Salad tastes great served warm or cold!
  3. Important Note: If you would like to serve your salad cold, refrigerate broccoli (without balsamic sauce) until it is to your desired temperature. Make balsamic sauce just before serving. If sauce is poured over broccoli and then refrigerated, the broccoli will become very mushy and no longer crisp!

Triple Berry Smoothy



  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 3/4 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 kiwifruit peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup orange juice


  1. Place the frozen berries in the blender and let them thaw for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the kiwifruit and the orange juice and blend on high until smooth.
  3. Top with more kiwi or berries if desired.

Easy Tex Mex Pasta Salad


  • 1 package (12 ounces) bowtie noodles
  • 1 can roasted corn
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 large avocados
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • Optional: queso fresco cheese, fresh lime


  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
  • 1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, optional
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. To prepare the dressing, add all of the ingredients to a blender or food processor and pulse until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. If making this ahead of time (recommended, see note) store in the fridge.
  2. Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water for about 30 seconds. Drain well.
  3. Toss with a few tablespoons of the prepared dressing (make it while the pasta is cooking) and place in the fridge to chill.
  4. Drain the roasted corn. Drain and rinse the black beans.
  5. Halve the cherry tomatoes. Remove the skin and pit of the avocado and chop. Coarsely chop the cilantro.
  6. Toss all the salad ingredients together.
  7. Toss with the salad dressing and enjoy if desired with crumbled queso fresco and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Sweet and Savory Three-Rice Salad

Ingredients for Salad

  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup cooked wild rice
  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 4 strips bacon, turkey bacon, or vegetarian "bacon", cooked crisp and chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions (white bulb and the green tops)
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Ingredients for Dressing

  • 1/2 cup salad oil
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon white (granulated) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Squeeze the thawed spinach to remove as much water as possible. Place spinach in large mixing bowl and "fluff up" with fork or fingers to loosen so that it will be easier to mix with the remaining ingredients.
  2. Add cooked rices, bacon, onion, dried cranberries and almonds in mixing bowl with spinach. Toss gently to combine.
  3. Place all salad dressing ingredients in jar with screw-on lid. Shake to combine. Pour dressing over salad and toss again to coat evenly with dressing.
  4. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Lum


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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        15 months ago from Washington State, USA

        CrisSp - I'm so glad you found my page. Of course, good food should be beautiful to the eye. A rainbow of colors is much more appealing than (for example), white rice, poached fish and bibb lettuce. Perhaps our instincts are meant to lead us to what is of most value to our bodies.

        Thank you for stopping by and for your kind words. It means a great deal to me. Spread the word!

      • CrisSp profile image


        15 months ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

        This is a page to clip. What an awesome presentation and information. I'm honestly trying very hard to put colours into my diet now. The saying is all true: health is wealth.


      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        17 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you Audrey. I shudder to think how we used to eat. My husband and I grew up in the 50's and 60's and mealtime was strictly "meat and potatoes" and the vegetable was a lettuce salad (iceberg lettuce) with tomatoes and a few slices of radish.

        Now we eat whole grains, lean protein (and much less than we used to). Meat used to be the star attraction. Now it's a supporting cast member and the vegetables are supreme. And the veggies are different too. We had carrots, peas, and green beans. I NEVER ate asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, or even a mushroom until I left home.

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 

        17 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        This is exactly how I eat. What lovely photos you've presented along with excellent information on healthy rainbow groups.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        17 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Mary, thank you so much for your kind words. Putting this one together was a lot of fun. In fact, I had to use a bit of restraint to stop from adding more and more recipes. Maybe I should do a Part 2. (BTW, look at my comment to Ryan aka Fullerman5000 and you'll find another idea there).

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        17 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Ryan, I love this time of year. All of the Farmers' Markets are bursting at the seams with fresh, local produce. We have been eating many more salads for dinner instead of the traditional "meat and potatoes." Try putting those cherries in a green salad with arugula (or spinach), walnuts, some Gorgonzola, and red onion. If you must have meat add some roast turkey, rotisserie chicken, or cooked salmon. Drizzle with a bit of raspberry vinegar. Yum.

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        17 months ago from Brazil

        Linda, you have explained it so clearly.

        Also instead of just telling us that we need to eat those colors, you've shown us how with recipes, most health articles don't do that. And most recipes don't go into why we need to eat them.

        Interesting topic and excellent article.

      • Fullerman5000 profile image

        Ryan Fuller 

        17 months ago from Louisiana, USA

        What a great, delicious and informative hub. I have been doing a better job about getting fruits in my diet. After all they are very delicious and have lots of benefits. I have been eating more cherries too especially for headaches. Thank you for sharing these wonderful facts.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        17 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Eric, this one is my little gift to you. I had you in mind when I began to write this. The rice salad is one of my favorites. (I've even heated it in the microwave and it's good that way too).

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Very well done. This all works for me. I really am lucky that I most like the foods that are good for me.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        17 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, there is no positive nutritional value, but it's hard for me to argue with a bit of whipped cream. Joy comes in many forms.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        17 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, you are such a stinker. Good thing I love you (because I know where you live and I know how to get there!). I hope you will take some of this to heart (pun intended).

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        17 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Angel I'm so glad that you found this of interest. Thanks for stopping by.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image


        17 months ago from USA

        I like that smoothie recipe. Of course, I'd add a healthy dose of whip cream to n top.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        17 months ago from Olympia, WA

        I'm thinking chopped up hot dogs in mac n cheese is pretty colorful. Does that count? Did I do good, coach?

        LOL I have fun messing with you, Linda.

        Seriously this is a great summary and a nice, succinct guide to healthy eating. I just might follow it one of these days. :)

      • Angel Guzman profile image

        Angel Guzman 

        17 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

        Wow! I never knew something as simple as color bonded foods together with their respective health benefits!! This is amazing and a great read!!!


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