I think we all have grade school teachings permanently etched in our brains, like the order of the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars…), ‘i before e except after c,’ ‘30 days hath September, April, June and November…’ They’re all valuable, but one that applies to your everyday health is Roy G Biv, the mnemonic for the colors of the rainbow. Each of the colors is important because the pigments responsible for the bright hues of fruits and veggies are tied to unique health protecting nutrients. For example, red and pink fruits and veggies like tomatoes and watermelon contain lycopene, which is linked to protection against heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, skin, breast, and prostate cancers. And green produce like spinach and kiwis contain natural substances called lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect vision.
Bottom line: color diversity means a broader spectrum of nutrients and health protection. One Colorado State study found that when women ate a wider array (18 varieties instead of five) of the exact same amount of produce for two weeks they had lower levels of a blood marker tied to premature aging and disease. In another study researchers found that regardless of the amount, the risk of lung cancer decreased when a wider variety of veggies were consumed. And in a previous post I wrote about the link between a higher intake of antioxidants and weight control. So mix it up and aim for all the colors of the rainbow each day:
Tomatoes, red bell pepper, red onion, beets, radishes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, red apples, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, red grapes
Carrots, sweet potatoes, papaya, cantaloupe, mango, nectarine, apricots, oranges, peaches
Yellow bell pepper, summer squash, yellow tomatoes, lemon, pineapple, yellow apples
Kale, spinach, leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, green beans, green onion, snow peas, zucchini, kiwi, honeydew melon, green grapes, green apples, limes
Blue - Indigo - Violet (these are all pretty close!)
Eggplant, purple endive, purple asparagus, purple carrots, purple cauliflower, purple cabbage, purple peppers, blueberries, blackberries, purple grapes, black grapes, plums, figs
Here’s a one day example that fits them all in:
Blueberries folded into organic 0% Greek yogurt (or plant-based yogurt) with toasted oats, sliced almonds and fresh mint
Field greens and grape tomatoes tossed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper topped with a small scoop of cooked, chilled wild rice and a serving of lean protein (lentils, salmon, chicken, organic tofu…)
Whole grain crackers spread with pesto, a wedge of natural cheese or serving of edamame and sliced cantaloupe
Black bean soup with brown rice and a side of yellow summer squash sautéed in chili infused olive oil.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.