Have you every heard the phrase “eat the rainbow”? And no, I don’t mean Skittles. When it comes to nutrition, eating a variety of colours means that you should be getting a large variety of the vitamins and minerals that you need for a healthy diet. Making a rainbow salad bowl of all your favourite veggies -and, yes, fruits -is a really tasty way to achieve this. So that you know exactly why, and how to create a rainbow bowl, I have listed one of the main benefits of each groups, and suggested how to build up a tasty meal. Please note, I am not a nutritionalist, but endeavour to list only proven health benefits and ultimately what you eat is your decision, and not mine.
These foods are most associated with lycopene and vitamin C. Lycopene is the chemical that gives tomatoes and peppers their red colour, and is thought to be more easily processed by the body when cooked. At the present, lycopene is being researched due to possible links with preventing certain cancers. It is also associated with protecting against heart disease, particularly regarding the hardening of arteries. Vitamin C (absorbic acid) is water soluble, and so cannot be stored in the body. As it is involved in the production of collagen, vitamin C is popular in skincare products. My personal favourite thing about vitamin C is that it facilitates the absorption of iron, useful for when you are on a more plant-based diet.
Orange and yellow
Almost all orange and yellow fruit and vegetables contain beta carotene, a compound with antioxidant properties. Beta carotene is metabolised by our bodies into a form of vitamin A called retinol. When we eat animal products, the vitamin A is already in the food in the form of retinol. Vitamin A is vital for good vision (now you know why you were told that carrots let you see in the dark!!). It is used in regulating cell growth and production, including that of embryos. It is also important for maintaining a healthy immune system. Beta carotene is also found in many green vegetables, such as spinach.
Every health-foodie’s favourite coloured smoothie, green foods are famed for being nutritionally dense and comparatively low in calories. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach and romaine lettuce are rich in chlorophyll, which is almost identical to haemoglobin in our blood, other than the central element is magnesium rather than iron. Because of this, it is thought that our bodies can convert chlorophyll into haemoglobin, thus increasing our blood oxygen content. However, I don’t believe this has yet been proven. Green foods are also associated with alkalising behaviour, something that is very popular currently.
Most purple colouration in fruits and vegetables is due to the pigment anthocyanin. Although studies on this antioxidant have proved difficult to draw conclusive results from, the reduction of tumours linked to this pigment is thought to be due to oxidative stress protection. Whilst purple foods are less well understood, there is no doubt that they pack a nutritional punch, so sprinkle some blueberries over your bowl for a surprise sweet kick.
Build a Bowl
Grab at least one vegetable or fruit from each colour group to get started. The easiest way to start is to grab a handful of your favourite leafy greens and use this as the base. Next, work you way around the rest of the colours. Whilst you want as much raw goodness in your bowl as possible (unless we are cooking a buddha bowl… but that is a whole different story!), the addition of baked slices of sweet potato is a definite recommendation. If you cook off lots of vegetables at the start of the week, help yourself to these, such as roasted aubergine. Aim to get plenty of variety in your bowl.
Next, look for some fat and protein to fill you up. I like mashed avocado or guacamole and pumpkin seeds. Try toasted almonds, black beans or walnuts. My current favourite thing to do is to roast chickpeas for a crunchy topping and easy snack. Alternatively, if you are looking for a more filling bowl, add some grains. Quinoa is always a good option as a complete protein, but I have really been enjoying sticky pearled barley, and buttery bulgar wheat recently.
Finally, look to your ingredients and see if you something to “cut” through the vegetable flavours. Berries add a sharp sweetness, as does lemon juice. If you eat meat or cheese, these flavours tend to make salads feel like more of a treat. I find that the avocado does the job beautifully.
Have you had success bringing the rainbow into your salads? Tag me in your photos, and use the hashtag #EatTheRainbow to get the movement going!