Eating The Rainbow: And Why It's Important
Eating The Colors of the Rainbow: And WHY it’s important
I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “eat the rainbow” more than once in your lifetime. It is one of those sayings that has so much truth to it, yet it is often overlooked or misunderstood. A lot of people think you’re some hippie from the mountains when using this term, but actually, the term is representative of a scientific, well-founded and wholesome approach to understanding health. Let’s be honest, we all know that eating a range of colorful fruits and vegetables is good for our health but WHY? Today I’m going to explore the real meaning and importance of “eating the rainbow”, why we should do it, and not only how to do it, but how to do it on a budget.
A phrase that started out as a way of simplifying the notion of eating a vast variety of fruits and vegetables in order to help children come to terms with the idea of expanding their culinary horizons to better their health, soon became a common phrase used by most health advocates, doctors, dieticians, as well as other health professionals in order to bring more awareness (not only to children, but to adolescents and adults, too) to this key factor to leading a healthy, balanced and energized life. The crux of the matter is simplified through this catch phrase, but when we take a moment and look at the science behind it, one gains a whole new understanding and perspective on the issue and this new understanding allows us to really engage with the gravitas and importance of what we know as simply, “eating the rainbow”. Through gaining this deeper understanding of the functions and roles of the various colors of fruits and vegetables we can slowly start to engage more intimately with investing time, energy & money into our health because we understand it better.
The importance of incorporating a large variety of fruits and vegetables within your diet is unparalleled. Why? Because each fruit and vegetable has a multitude of different micro nutrients which help to feed and truly nourish the body on a cellular level. Each fruit and veg has various minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals and the like and in each one the ratios of these as well as the absorbability of particular nutrients is different. Each color expressed in various fruits and vegetables is a powerful indicator of the particular ratio or set of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that that fruit or vegetable is abundant in. Through understanding this you can tell a lot about a fruit/vegetable’s nutritional value by its’ color. The various colors of food indicate which nutrients said food is most abundant in and which nutrients you’ll be receiving as a result of incorporating more of that fruit or vegetable into your diet. These differing colors can be like guides to us - allowing us to be able to tell just through recognizing the different colors of particular foods which ones will be most beneficial for us. For example, if we know we are deficient in certain nutrients we can then take charge of our health by consciously choosing foods that will give our bodies what they need, simply through knowing which nutrients correlate with that particular color. Isn't that ridiculously awesome.
Or if you aren’t yet as clued up about which which nutrients you want or need more of, you can simply go by how you’re feeling. Are you feeling lethargic/tired/weak/headaches/brittle hair & nails? Your body is your best friend in terms of it always having your best interests at heart, it will tell you and literally show you through your body what you need more of.
Generally speaking, a diet rich in fresh produce and high in variety will give you most of the nutrients you need in order to increase health and vitality, but it’s incredibly helpful to know which fruits and veggies - and which corresponding colors - contain which vitamins and minerals. “In short, adding a variety of colorful produce to your diet is an easy way to get a lot of vitamins and minerals without putting in too much effort beyond selecting a bunch of colors.” For example, fruits and vegetables that have a yellow/orange color are rich in vitamin C and A (think citrus fruits). All green fruits and vegetables such as kiwi, spinach, asparagus, avocado and kale are high in vitamins K, B, C and E, as well as a multitude of minerals. Purple veggies or fruit like eggplant, grapes, blueberries (and the like) are high in vitamins C and K. This is just an example of some of the vitamins in the varying colors, now imagine the varying ratios and types of antioxidants, phytochemicals and minerals found in these same whole foods!
It’s so important to take note of the colors and therefore the nutrients we consume, but it is equally important to not let that become the main focus, resulting in nutritionism - the idea that the nutritional value of a particular food is limited to the sum of all of its’ individual nutrients. The nutrients we derive from the foods we eat are also effected by how we prepare the foods, how we eat the foods, food combinations and what we accompany the foods with. While eating the rainbow is highly important, it is so important to keep a big focus on the enjoyment of food. Getting creative and adventurous in the kitchen will inevitably lead to an expansion in the range and variety of the foods you eat as well as keep things interesting for your taste buds and the people around you (think along the lines of: trying new recipes, trying to incorporate new ingredients, experimenting and learning to love your food and the preparation processes, being mindful, cooking with intention). Eating this way (with a focus on whole plant foods) will naturally result in your well-rounded nourishment on all levels, without becoming too rigid in your quest for health and vibrancy. In this way, you increase your creativity, get a better connection to the food you prepare and eat, as well as increase the joy and nutritional benefit of the things you eat on a daily basis. If you ask me, that’s a major win.
RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCE:
In terms of the “daily recommended allowance” there is a lot that needs to be addressed here. A lot of people unfortunately don’t make the base line of nutritional requirements (or RDA) of the various vitamins and minerals due to poor diet and lifestyle choices, but what is even more shocking is that a lot of people don’t realize that these RDA’s represent the absolute minimum of said nutrients in order to avoid deficiency. What is often overlooked is the fact that these RDA’s very rarely represent the daily recommended amounts of nutrients for optimum health and wellbeing. When you realize this, it becomes clear that your health is in your own hands and that listening to RDA’s is only helpful in so far as avoiding deficiency. If you are wanting to move away from simply avoiding deficiency, and move forward into gaining optimum health, vibrancy and longevity the ball is in your court to do research, to spend time putting effort and intention and care into investing in your health and therefore your life. There are a plethora of resources out there these days to help give you sound information with regards to reclaiming, or simply claiming, a greater and more holistic sense of natural health.
PLANT BASED ON A BUDGET:
Is it possible to eat the colors of the rainbow on a budget? The answer is YES. I often hear people say “but a plant based diet must be so expensive!” my answer is generally something along the lines of, “have you compared the prices of meat to that of fresh fruit and veg?”. That usually gets people to think twice about any pre-conceived ideas of what a plant based diet costs.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are also many different ways of approaching a plant based diet - just as there are many ways of approaching a “normal” or SAD diet. Some people like to get sashimi or a T-bone steak (which obviously costs more) while others like to get take away fried chicken and chips, it is the same with a plant based diet - sure, you can spend heaps of money buying super foods and buying all of your produce fresh and organic, but that isn’t the only way to approach a plant based diet. It’s wonderful if you can afford to buy fresh and organic, but don’t let your ability or inability to buy fresh and organic produce deter you from a plant based diet because there are many different ways of going about it. For example, a diet comprised of whole grains, root vegetables and beans as your staple (which are affordable, super healthy and give wonderful sustained energy as well as create a complete protein when combined. Think about it; some of the poorest nations in the world thrive on a plant based diet comprised of whole grains, starches, vegetables and legumes) supplemented with some fresh vegetables or even some frozen veggies, is highly affordable, in fact it’s not only affordable - you will likely be saving money and increasing your health at the same time. Frozen veggies are often overlooked and misunderstood. My stance on frozen veggies is: rather frozen veggies than no veggies. Fresh, ripe, seasonal and local is generally first prize (in my opinion), but there is nothing wrong with relying on frozen fruits and vegetables to get your nutrients and colors in. A lot of times frozen fruits and vegetables are packaged and frozen at their peak ripeness which means that they are frozen at the time where they are most nutritionally beneficial to us. If you are having to choose between very unsatisfactory fruit or vegetables that are old and limp or under-ripe and lack nutrients, rather opt for their frozen counterpart as their frozen counterpart is likely to have more nutrients. It’s important to remember that some vegetables and fruits are more expensive than others - seasonality and availability affect this so if you’re on a budget perhaps skip the fresh strawberries and blueberries and buy some frozen ones, or if you are wanting to go for something fresh - buy whatever fruit or veg is in season as that will be the most affordable produce around.
Some wonderful ways of incorporating a rainbow of colors and tastes into your meals as well as increase ease and efficiency of doing so would be the following:
- One of my best and most helpful tips would be to spend some time when you have a moment on the weekends or in the week to meal prep - you can cook big batches of grains and legumes ahead of time, place in tupper-wares or zip lock bags and place in the fridge or freezer for easy access, time efficiency and ease. The same goes with your vegetables and fruit - you can chop them all up and place in air tight sealed bags or containers - helpful in those moments when you get home from work and you want to throw together a vegetable stir fry or quick curry but don’t feel like the hassle of chopping and washing. You can also create little containers or zip lock bags and even label them by recipe for example, “stir fry veggies” and “fruit smoothies” or “taco fillings” and the like. Freeze if necessary or place in the fridge if you know you’ll use them within the next few days. This saves time, energy and effort but still affords you the ability to maintain and sustain your healthy lifestyle without compromising taste, enjoyment or health. You can also spend some time creating some of your favorite recipes and freeze for the week ahead - like make lentil and chickpea burger patties, create vegan “meatballs”, falafels, breakfast muffins or even entire meals like soups and curries and freeze for easy go-to options when life gets busy.
- Don’t be scared of buying frozen fruit and vegetables - they provide ease, efficiency and actually retain a lot more nutrients than we give them credit for. In fact, some people like plant physiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Centre in Texas, says that sometimes frozen fruits and veggies can be more nutrient dense than some of the fresh produce that sits in the shelves for a while as they are frozen at peak ripeness which means they are frozen at a time when their nutrient density is peaking. A good general rule of thumb is to buy fresh fruit and veg when said fruit or veg is in season and to buy frozen when fruits and vegetables are out of season because then you can maintain a high nutrient intake even when the fresh produce might not be as nutrient dense, affordable or in season.
- Create new dishes using new ingredients - it can often be quite daunting experimenting with new recipes, let alone with new ingredients or things you’ve never tasted or worked with. But don’t let that deter you - you could discover new favorite foods or dishes that could whisk you away on a taste sensation ride that could very well inspire you and take you somewhere new within your culinary world or your physical & internal world . In doing this your body also absorbs vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that it otherwise might not have received from another source within your diet. Approaching your food this way also introduces an element of fun and creativity, which naturally will pass on to your food and allow you to receive not only good and varying nutrients but also good energy from your food. You can even create weekly challenges for yourself, for example, introducing/working with two new food items per week. Another fun idea is to start a supper club with some close friends every Sunday and introduce two strange or new ingredients and allow the friends to choose the new ingredients to create an element of mystery and fun. There really are infinite ways of making your time in the kitchen fun, exciting, social or personal. Even just trying new combinations of foods can spice your life up, it doesn’t have to be limited to entirely new ingredients!
- Be prepared - always have a snack-attack bag on you with your favorite fruit or trail mixes to avoid those "black-hole hunger pangs" which will help keep your blood sugar levels even and balanced, it will leave you feeling energized and level headed and help you to avoid mood swings.
Some of my favorite go-to rainbow recipes are:
1. Smoothies, Smoothie Bowls or Juices (you can fit a whole world of goodness into smoothies and juices - you can very easily include many fruits and veggies: from sneaking in some powerful greens, to berries with high antioxidant and nutrient levels, to beets or carrots and the like). These are amazing at getting in easily absorbable nutrients into your blood stream and cells, providing efficient and delicous nourishment. You can pre-prepare bags of your favorite go-to smoothie or juice recipe ingredients to save time and effort. A fun idea if you have a dehydrator (or if you want you could do it at a low temp in the oven) is to dehydrate spiralized zucchini, squash, beets, carrots etc and use them as delicious crunchy toppings on top of smoothie bowls. It might sound quite strange, but it’s delicious and you’ll be getting in some extra veg!
2. Stir Fries - the trusty old stir fry is a fantastic go-to option for anyone in a rush that wants something delicious, easy and healthy. Cooking up your veggies with a delicious sauce - my favorite is a tahini-soy sauce or a miso-tahini sauce - and adding a root vegetable or whole food starch like noodles, potatoes, rice, etc.
3. Roasted veg with a vegan kale-basil-pecan pesto (you can make the pesto beforehand as well as chop the veg and have it ready to go - allowing for a quick throw together meal of roasted veg tossed in pesto served with quinoa or brown rice)
4. Oatmeal (or overnight oats) topped with various fruits like berries, papaya, banana, goji berries, cacao nibs, chia seeds and some other seeds and nuts is a great go to.
5. Oatmeal Banana Pancakes - you can prepare your pancake batter and leave it in the fridge for further use, make pancakes and then top with your favorite fruits, seeds and you can even sneak some pumpkin and/or butternut into the batter or make pink pancakes by adding in some beets and berries!
6. Sushi Bowls/Taco Bowls/Buddha Bowls (a mixture of goodies, starting with a base of rice/quinoa/couscous and your favorite veg like corn, peas, shredded carrots, sweet potato, cucumber, lettuce, greens, black beans and avo either topped with salsa for a Mexican flare or topped with some nori and soy sauce for a Japanese flare or topped with some pre-made falafel balls and a tahini dressing for a Buddha Bowl flare.
7. Healthy Banana Bread (recipe under recipes), or healthy muffins/cookies like these bad boys below (oatmeal cookies with raisins and sunflower seeds) for convenient snacks or meals with little to no hassle.
8. AVOCADO ON TOAST (or crackers) with lemon juice, salt & pepper, chili, rocket, tomatoes and chickpeas is an amazing power-house go-to dish for me.
You really are only limited by your imagination when it comes to creating delicious, easy, healthy and colorful meals. All it takes is setting side a bit of time to think about it and prepare and then voila! And so, healthy eating becomes a lot easier and more accessible. Who knows, you might be the next kitchen wiz in your family surprising people with delightful healthy treats. It’s so amazing when you fully realize what an absolute gift it is to yourself and to those around you to provide healthy, lovingly prepared, vibrant food that is going to nourish on all levels – physical, mental, emotional & spiritual. It truly is one of the most fundamental, basic, and simple pleasures of life.