Having a colorful plate not only looks appetizing but those foods are packed full of vitamins and nutrients that contain beneficial and preventative health benefits. In this article we will break down the food rainbow and explain why having a colorful diet is important as well as why foods are the colors that they are. We will also share some cooking tips so you can get the most out of these ingredients!
REDS (Lycopene) -
Tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and red bell peppers
Whether you are eating a plump garden picked red tomato or a refreshing ruby red grapefruit the same vitamin, lycopene, is what is giving both of these their gorgeous colors. Lycopene holds antioxidant properties which can help protect your body against free radicals. While there isn’t proof yet and more research needs to be done, it has been shown to help reduce risk of certain types of cancer.
One easy way to incorporate a high amount of lycopene into your diet is by using tomato paste.
Tomato paste is great to add into the base of sauces or soups, it will give your dish a nice rich tomato flavor!
You can find tomato paste in a can or a tube. I prefer the tube because for a few extra dollars you will get a product that lasts much longer and you won’t be in the grocery store aisle wondering if you have some at home.
DARK REDS (Betalains) -
Beets are a vegetable that often gets forgotten about. Maybe it is because people aren’t quite sure what to do with them or that they think they don't taste good. Well I am here to ask you to give beets another chance. Besides being sweet, subtle, and easy to cook, beets have some great benefits thanks to a nutrient called betalin. Betalains hold antioxidant, detoxification, and anti-inflammatory properties. We can also thank betalains for giving beets their beautiful garnet red appearance. Beets also contain other vitamins such as A, B, and C. Did you know you can also eat their leafy greens? Their greens have more iron than spinach, making this a 0% waste food!
You can eat beets raw or cooked. Roasted beets are delicious and super simple to make. Just wrap beets in tin foil and put onto a cooking sheet to catch any juice. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 45-50 or until they are fork tender. Let them cool off until you can handle them and the skin should rub right off. They can turn things red so make sure your prep space is clean and I recommend using gloves if you have any laying around. If not, no big deal your hands just might be colored for a few days. Then dice or cube the beets. They make great additions to salads and pair very well with a citrus vinaigrette.
The leafy greens are great sauteed in a pan with some olive oil, garlic and a nice squeeze of fresh lemon!
ORANGE/YELLOW (Alpha carotene, beta carotene, beta cryptoxanthin)-
Bananas, carrots, corn, pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yellow peppers, winter squash
Did anyone ever tell you if you eat too many carrots you will turn orange? This would occur because of the carotenoids, and it is the same reason why flamingos turn pink! They are responsible for giving foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and oranges their bright color.
Carotenoids can fight cancer and are antioxidants. Some can even be converted into Vitamin A, which can help with vision and proper growth and development.
With fall right around the corner, so is winter squash season! Winter squash include- butternut, acorn, pumpkin, delacatta, and spaghetti squash to suggest a few. These squash make a great side dish on a cold crisp night. One side dish I like to make is a roasted butternut squash mash with greek yogurt. First turn your oven to 400 degrees. Then cut the squash in half long ways and scoop out the seeds. Place facing up on a baking sheet and put 1-2 garlic cloves in the part where you just scooped out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-45 minutes or until you can scoop out the squash. Try to preserve the squash skin as we will be using that again in a moment. In a bowl combine the squash with 1 cup of plain greek yogurt. I like to add a dash of red pepper flakes for a little kick. Once it is mixed, if you were able to preserve the skin, place the mixture back and then bake for another 15 minutes. If the skin fell apart, no worries! Just place the mixture into an oven-proof bowl and bake.
GREEN (Chlorophyll, Glucosinolates, Indoles, and Isothiocyanates) -
Asparagus, avocado, brussels sprouts, green cabbage, green herbs, kale, spinach
Have you ever had brussel sprouts or green cabbage and wondered why it had an interesting odor? That is because vegetables such as these fall under the cruciferous vegetable category that are high in hydrogen sulfide gas.
The reward for eating these stinky vegetables makes it worth it! Many of them are rich in Vitamin K, A,C, and contain phytonutrients, a plant based compound, which can lower inflammation and reduce chances of developing cancer.
Many of these greens make a great side dish. One great side dish is Brussel Sprouts with either roasted almonds and lemon. Preheat the oven to 400. While the oven is heating, slice your sprouts in half then drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for about 35-40 minutes. In a separate pan on medium heat, no oil, sprinkle in a handful or two of slivered raw almonds. As soon as they start to look toasted, pull them off the heat (they can burn rather quickly). Toss the almonds in a bowl with the brussel sprouts and drizzle with fresh squeezed lemon juice and zest.
Blue/Purple ( Anthocyanins)-
Blackberries, blueberries, concord grapes, eggplants, elderberries, plums, purple and red cabbage
What do blackberries, blueberries, eggplants all have in common? They all contain the pigment anthocyanins which gives them their blue/purple color. Anthocyanins also contain antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, as well as anti-obesity effects. They have also been known to assist with the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Most of these foods are best eaten raw but here is an easy recipe for a purple cabbage slaw that goes great with bbq or tacos. Thinly slice half a red cabbage in a separate bowl combine one cup of plain greek yogurt with the zest and juice of 1-2 limes depending on how juicy they are. Add a few dash of your favorite hot sauce if you choose. Mix thoroughly and coat cabbage evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
White/Brown ( Allicin) -
Cauliflower, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, white potatoes
Allicin is a compound produced from crushed or cut garlic that gives it that punchy aroma and taste. It also gives these fragrant cloves some great health benefits such as controlling blood pressure, high cholesterol, and reducing inflammation.
When cooking with garlic, overheating it can kill the allicin so you don’t want to heat it over 140 degrees. While eating raw garlic is something you think you would only do in desperate times like warding off vampires there are some easy ways to sneak into daily meals. One way that is super easy and beneficial for multiple reasons is to make a homemade salad dressing. Making salad dressing at home is always better than store bought because you get to control the amount of each ingredient. For a simple vinaigrette follow these instructions. Chop or grate 1 clove of garlic into a mason jar. Add two tablespoons of dijon mustard and the juice of half a lemon and a quarter cup of olive oil. Chop up any fresh herbs you are looking to use up. Twist on the lid and give it a nice shake. Play around with the ingredients and add as you see fit. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
It is also often thought that you should only eat vegetables that are bright in color and stay away from ones that are primarily white. In fact these vegetables such as white potatoes, parsnips, and cauliflower have immune boosting properties and can also assist in lowering bad cholesterol and high blood pressure. They also contain nutrients that minimize the risk of various types of cancer such as colon, prostate, and breast.
Here is a recipe that incorporates the whole food rainbow. It’s also great because you can make it in advance and have it throughout the week. This was a recipe my family and I made when we went camping growing up because of how easy it was to cook over the fire. Since it was so yummy and easy we decided that it didn’t just have to be for when we went camping and it became a staple meal in our family.
1 whole cut cup chicken
1 can whole or diced tomatoes
1 bag of baby potatoes
3 medium carrots
1-2 ears of corn
1 white onion
A handful each of oregon,thyme, rosemary
4-6 cloves of garlic
1 cup of chicken stock
Preheat oven 350 degrees. In a large oven proof baking dish place chicken on the bottom. Either leave potatoes whole or cut in half. Peel and cut carrots and parsnips into medium pieces. Slice corn cobs into three sections. Quarter onion and separate layers. Chop garlic and evenly distribute with herbs. Cover with the can of tomatoes and chicken stock. Wrap the entire dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minuts to 1 hour or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Best served in a shallow bowl as it is more of a stew at the end. Add salt and pepper to taste and Enjoy!