The “eat the rainbow” model is a common allegory used to achieve maximum nutrient intake, by eating vegetables and fruit of all colors of the rainbow.
In a broad sense, fruits and veggies that are red are high in Vitamin A and C, those that are green are high in Vitamin B, C, E, and K, those that are yellow and orange are high in Vitamin A, C, and K, those that are white are high in Vitamin B, C, and K, and those that are purple are high in Vitamin C and K. And even though there is of course overlap in which colors hold higher levels of vitamins, each color is unique in the bodily functions that they support. Some red fruits and veggies are known to have cancer-fighting nutrients, some of the orange and yellow varieties are known for their immune-boosting characteristics, and some of green ones for detoxifying. Some white veggies have been known to promote heart health and purple ones to reduce inflammation.
Half of the fun is to find the color and variety roadmap that will provide you with the daily health boost you are looking for. Since the color spectrum is broad, so is the diversity of the fruits and vegetables that share its spectrum. It’s still a good idea to research the nutrients of the fruits and vegetables you eat, and perhaps even more if they are the same color. For example, a kiwi (green) does not have the same nutritional makeup as broccoli (green).
Remaining open-minded and creative when consuming fruits and veggies is key to having a balanced diet and achieving rainbow goals. Some colors are simply more common and more easily incorporated into meals, such as greens (lettuce, peppers, cucumbers) and whites (potatoes, mushrooms). That being said, “eating the rainbow” doesn’t have to mean you’re limited to basic recipes like salad or steamed vegetables.
Berries and tomatoes are typical in the red category, but these don’t necessarily need to be used raw. Frozen berries or warm tomato sauce can be consumed during winter months without fresh options available. Leafy greens like spinach and kale can easily be incorporated into fresh pasta dough and soups. Other greens typically discarded like carrot tops or beet tops can be used to create distinctive pesto sauce or blended into your favorite smoothie. This is also a great way to reduce food waste!
Apart from the citrus fruits in the yellow and orange category, think carrots, and sweet potato. Carrots, and sweet potato are affordable, versatile in how they can be bought and cooked, and store well. White fruits and veggies include potatoes, turnips, and parsnips, again all great options for winter months, for when you’re on a budget, and for when you’re craving hearty, creamy mashes.
Purple fruits and veggies can be particularly challenging. Blueberries and grapes can be quite expensive and eggplant can be tricky to cook. In some farmer’s markets you might be able to find purple carrots, cauliflower, bell pepper or potato. Purple cabbage is reliable, it can be chopped up and added to just about anything – from sandwiches to tacos. And if you’re lucky enough to enjoy its earthy sweetness, beets are a great source of nutrients.
You can also think along the line of textures. Crunchier veggies like zucchini and carrots can be added to meatballs or meatloaf, to not only enhance your nutrient intake but also to add flavor. Cauliflower and broccoli are great for making veggie tots or pancakes. Roasted beets can be emulsified and you can sneak them into sauces, soups, or make a chutney for your favorite protein.
Truly, there are endless ways to healthfully and affordably “eat the rainbow” if you remain open-minded.