Nope—eating Skittles all day every day isn’t a step on the path to optimal health. But if your typical meals contain a rainbow of real fruits and vegetables, you're well on your way.
Imagine the healthiest salad you can think of: It's full of leafy greens, bright yellow bell peppers, ripe, fiery red tomatoes, deep burgundy beets, orange carrots and sweet potatoes, and maybe some blueberries or raspberries for a little sweetness. Not only is this salad exploding with nutrients, but its a perfect example of a dish you'd eat on the Rainbow Diet.
Most naturally colorful foods are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, because the same compounds that give them color are what make them nutritious for us to eat. The Rainbow Diet suggests that if you eat as many colors of the rainbow as you can throughout the day, you’ll be ingesting more beneficial nutrients, and therefore you’ll be more healthy.
Judging a food by its color is a super simplified way of assessing its overall nutritional value. When you think about the colors of lot of processed foods, this concept actually makes a lot of sense. Potato chips, hamburger buns, crackers, sugar, french fries, processed cheese… all of these not-so-great-for-you-foods are pretty much the same color, right? And the foods that we consider healthiest—namely, fruits and veggies—come in every hue imaginable.
Of course, not all fruits and veggies are created equal—and the best way to make sure you're eating a balanced diet is by knowing the nutritional content of each hue in ROY G BIV.
Red foods are high in lycopene, the antioxidant that fights free radicals, as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese. Tomatoes, strawberries, and red bell peppers are all great examples and sources of these nutrients. Chowing down on the red group of foods can help inhibit inflammation, boost heart health, and lower cholesterol.
Orange and yellow foods get their golden hue from beta carotene, which can reduce cholesterol levels and help maintain healthy skin and eyes. These foods also tend to be high in vitamin A and C just like the reds, and are often valued for the boost they give your immune system–hence the idea of chugging orange juice when you feel a cold coming on.
Green foods are the real MVPs of the Rainbow Diet. You've heard every vegan wax poetic about the benefits of kale, but it's true that green foods tend to contain a plethora of health benefits in their leaves. Chlorophyll, the super nutrient that gives these foods their color, assists almost every biological function but is particularly helpful for repairing DNA. Plus, green veggies and fruits tend to be heavy in vitamin K, C, and B, as well as calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Finally, the blues and purples! These foods are high in resveratrol, lutein, folic acid, and vitamin C and K. Renowned for their brain benefits, berries and other blue foods have been studied for their ability to help anti-aging and fight cancer.
Fruits and vegetables in general tend to be lower in caloric density than animal products or processed food, and the Rainbow Diet encourages participants to throw back as many veggies as their little hearts desire. So if you want to eat an entire bowl of Brussels sprouts, you have permission to do so. Eating tons of veggies will make you super full (hello there, fiber!), so for those looking to drop a few pounds without starving themselves, the Rainbow Diet could be a handy option.
But just like any eating plan, the Rainbow Diet has its downfalls. Too much fruit can spike blood sugar, and too much fiber can be uncomfortable and leave you running to the bathroom! Plus, if all you're eating are fruits and vegetables, you could be missing out on valuable nutrients and fats that come from animal products, tree nuts, and grains like vitamin B12, thiamine, vitamin D3, and DHA.
The Rainbow Diet definitely has its perks; we're all about eating a daily dose of fruits and vegetables, as long as you eat everything in moderation and balance. So go ahead—taste the rainbow!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho