Eat Healthy With a Rainbow of Foods Each Day

Updated on February 5, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Source

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

Source

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/Yellow

Source

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

Source

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

Blue/Purple

Source

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

White/Tan

Source

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.

White

Dietary Sources

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

Recipes

Superfood Salad with Blueberry Lemon Vinaigrette

Source

Amy, self-avowed foodie, nutritionist, recipe developer, wife, and busy mom of two is on a mission to create everyday nutritious recipes that taste absolutely DELICIOUS!!! Her superfood salad is indeed packed with vitamins and antioxidants and is as great tasting as it is beautiful.

Chopped Broccoli Salad with Walnuts, Cranberries, and Balsamic

Source

Broccoli salad is a common "guest" at picnics and potlucks, but I'll bet that you've never had one that tasted like this. London combines crisp broccoli with umami- and antioxidant-rich walnuts, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and balsamic.

Triple Berry Smoothy

Source

I've never been a smoothie lover. My daughter buys kale smoothies at a local I-won't-divulge-the-name juice shop. They might be packed with nutrition, but they look dreadful.

Then, there's this triple-berry smoothie by Kelly. It's it beautiful? Now this, I could get used to.

Easy Tex Mex Pasta Salad

Source

This salad would make a great summer-time meal. With the fiber- and protein-rich black beans you don't need meat. This Tex-Mex pasta salad is easy enough to whip up for your family, and pretty enough to serve to company at your next backyard party or potluck.

Sweet and Savory Three-Rice Salad

Source

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

Instructions

  1. Squeeze the thawed spinach to remove as much water as possible. Place spinach in a 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 the rices, bacon, onion, dried cranberries and almonds in mixing bowl with spinach. Toss gently to combine.
  3. Place all salad dressing ingredients in a 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

    Comments

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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 years 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

        CrisSp 

        2 years 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.

        Pinning.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years ago from Washington State, USA

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

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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 

        2 years 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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