Eating the Rainbow is not phoo-phoo advice! It is sound nutritional advice.
Eat the Rainbow put into perspective
When I was in school with the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, one of the teachers, Deanna Minnich, PhD, IFMCP— she’s a functional nutritionist, educated us about the different colors of foods and how each color is from a powerful plant chemical that has specific disease fighting powers in the body.
These plant chemicals are called phytochemicals or phytonutrients — phyto means plant, you want them in your life. Those little phytochemicals the plants make impart flavor, scent, color, and disease fighting power!
To date there are known to be about 25,000 phytochemicals, like resveratrol, flavonoids, polyphenols, and anthocyanins to name a few, you may have heard of these.
Each phytonutrient plays an important role in our health; many have heard of the benefits of berries, specifically for brain health -this is due to their high phytochemical content.
We want to eat foods high in phytochemicals, and plants rich in phytochemicals are also rich in anti-oxidants — which counter the free radicals we are exposed to that lead to aging.
Have you heard of oxidative stress? Phytochemicals reduce oxidative stress in our bodies.
- Oxidative stress! What exactly is oxidative stress? Oxidative stress is inflammation creation. Examples are; high sugar diets, fried foods, natural and artificial radiation, toxins in air, food and water; and miscellaneous sources of oxidizing activity, such as car exhaust, pollution, chemical fragrances used in dryer sheets, toiletries, food, and perfumes.
- 1:1 hand combat! – Anti-oxidants from foods will combat these free radicals. Anti-oxidants vs. free radicals = your level of oxidative stress.
- You want more anti-oxidants than free radicals. If it is the other way around you will age sooner (signs of this first show in your skin) and have higher risk of all diseases.
- Studies showing the harmful effects of frying meat are countered by adding a slice of avocado. EAT VEGGIES! Keep in mind this slice of avocado’s anti-oxidants will go toward combatting the frying of meat and will not counter any free radicals already in your body … so along with that slice of avo add some onion, lettuce, tomato, red pepper, get the idea?
One of the easiest ways to get more phytochemicals in your life is to eat vegetables rich in colors — and variety is the key. I notice that many people fall into a habit of eating the same vegetables, but you want to vary it — and to see how many different vegetables and herbs and spices you can get in a meal; for example when I make a salad I will use 2-3 different types of lettuce and leafy greens, sprouts of some type (I get different sprouts each week), seeds of some type (always rotating them), then I look at my colors and see what colors can I add to the green, grated beets will bring in some red, black olives bring in some dark color, onion will add some yellow or white, some chives from the garden — especially if they are flowering I add the flower for some purple.
Also eating seasonal foods will provide variety. One of the easiest ways to eat seasonal foods is to sign up for a farm share.
Each color represented holds a special super power:
Red foods contain phytochemcials like lycopene, astaxanthin, carotenoids, and quercitin just to name a few. These compounds are specifically strong for the heart and liver, but also the brain and immune system. Red foods are strong in reducing the risk for certain cancers and reducing inflammation (which is often pictured as red).
Pomegranates are good due to heir ellagic acid, an important detoxification component for your liver. Lycopene is also in the category — tomatoes top the list for that but watermelon and pink grapefruit are also sources. Lycopene protects against cancer and heart attacks — cooked tomato products are richer in lycopene as cooking makes the lycopene more bioavailable for our body to use — and it is fat soluble so adding a little olive oil to your tomato sauce is just fine!
Red foods (and some purple foods) contain anthocyanins which reduce the risk of cancer and help to protect the heart and brain. Foods high in anthocyanins include all red berries, apples with skin, beets, cabbage, kidney beans, and red onions. Keeping the skin on apples and not peeling away too many layers of the red onion will provide more of these beneficial phytonutrients.
Quercitin found in foods like apple skins and onions help promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus area of the brain — our critical thinking part of our brain where we learn and remember too. Quercitin is underrated! It is a powerhouse nutrient that directly benefits immune health by protecting immune cells and helping them to mount a more effective immune defense, while keeping the immune system in balance protecting you from auto-immunity. Quercitin is superfood for your friendly gut bacteria where it helps to improve brain health as well as your immune system, contributing to cognitive benefits. Quercitin also works with your mitochondria improving energy production.
Red foods – Apples, beets, cherries, cranberries kidney beans, pomegranate, radishes, radicchio, red onions, strawberries and tomatoes to name a few.
Orange foods are high in the “carotenes” such as alpha and beta-carotene, and other phytochemicals you may recognize like bioflavonoids, and curcuminoids found in turmeric. Beta carotene is a precursor to the powerful anti-oxidant Vitamin A, which you want lots of in your life. Primary sources of Vitamin A are animal foods; if you restrict the amount of meat or animal foods you eat then you need to eat more orange vegetables so your body can make adequate vitamin A.
Orange foods are also good for the reproductive system — specifically the beta-carotene is supportive of the ovaries. It is interesting to note the “coincidence” that carotenoids effect hormonal health and guppy’s gills turn orange when they are ready to mate. Silly connection but interesting!
There is a little food science involved here … while many people promote eating raw vegetables, many times that is not better. Some raw vegetables like carrots need heat to break down their fibers so you can free the carotenoids from the fibers. Fat is also needed, carotenoids are fat soluble and will not be absorbed into the body without a fat. Could be one of the reasons gently cooked carrots with a little pat of butter (and sprinkle of dill weed) is sooo good!
On the flip side, bioflavonoids which are found mostly in citrus fruits and other orange and yellow fruits are water soluble and don’t require cooking to be able to digest — in fact cooking would destroy some of their nutrients. Bioflavonoids work together with Vitamin C to help prevent heart attacks, and maintain strong bones, teeth, skin, and vision. Heat would also degrade vitamin C. Could be why cooked tangerines are not that appealing.
Orange foods particularly benefit skin and eye health — and are also strong in supporting immune function, and they possess anti-bacterial benefits as well.
Orange foods … sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, tangerines, turmeric, papaya, mango …
Yellow foods — Digestion — Yellow foods are high in lutein and zeaxanthin which are potent anti-inflammatories, anticancer, help to protect the vascular system, the skin and the eyes. Yellow foods are associated with improved digestion, they represent your fire. Many yellow foods are heating such as bananas, lemons, pineapples and ginger.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are also carotenoids which means they are fat soluble and will need fat to get carried into our cells. These two phytochemicals are also present in green foods such as celery, the green overpowers the yellow so you don’t notice it.
Many yellow foods are high in starches so be sure to combine them with non-starchy vegetables and fats or proteins to reduce their blood sugar effect. Whole grains that are yellow are better options such as amaranth, corn meal, polenta, and quinoa than processed corn foods such as crackers, cakes, corn chips, and cookies.
Yellow foods include apples, pears, bananas, corn (as in corn on the cob not processed corn foods!), lemon, ginger root, and millet.
It’s interesting; Deanna Minnich also talks of the colors you are drawn — or NOT drawn to, might represent a need in your body for that color in food. For example, if you buy a sunny yellow shirt then it sits in your closet and never seems like the right day to wear it you might be “yellowed out” meaning stressed or “burnt out”. Yellow is associated happy days — if you are stressed you will avoid yellow. There was a study done called the Manchester Color Wheel study that proved the colors you choose to wear or put in your home reflect your mood. If you find yourself avoiding yellow you might have excess yellow in your mood (stress)— or in your food (from processed corn foods). Many yellow foods are highly processed corn based foods, these refined foods increase your blood sugar which increases stress in your body. If you are avoiding yellow, could be your body just does not want any more corn based yellow processed foods!
If you don’t feel like eating yellow foods, perhaps you need more cooling foods from the purples, like berries or grapes or figs. The blue purple pigments are good mood balancers.
Although take it all with a grain of salt —I just don’t look good in yellow! And maybe that’s all there is to it, but I do tend to have a lot of pitta fire in me and yellow is associated with fire, and I can be quite fiery at times … so maybe there is a connection.
Green foods help the liver! They are rich in sulforaphane, indoles, and isothiocyanate from the cabbage family, due to this fact they can also help with hormone balancing and detoxification of used hormones; reducing hormone or estrogen related cancers. Cabbage foods help our body detox our used hormones — use them and lose them — if you are challenged to detox them, hormones can stay in your system longer and increase your risk for estrogen or hormone driven cancers. Cabbage foods can help with that.
Cabbage foods are better lightly cooked, except for arugula, radishes, mustard greens, and watercress — foods that you typically do not cook. Eating some raw cabbages are fine, but in excess raw cabbage foods have goitrogens with can interfere with your thyroids ability to uptake iodine — cooking cabbage foods reduces these goitrogens.
Chlorophyll is what makes green foods green and it is part of the photosynthesis process in plants. It is very cleansing and deodorizing in our body, chlorine is made from chlorophyll — though its processed to be toxic. Chlorophyll also has wound healing properties and is known to help build your blood because it is chemically similar to hemoglobin (which is primarily iron) which carries oxygen throughout your body.
Green foods also contain phytosterols which help our body regulate a healthy cholesterol balance.
Green foods contain catechins, and ECGC, green tea being vey high in these phytonutrients — one cup of green tea per day has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 50%. Quality of green tea is important though. If your green tea comes in a tea bag I doubt you will get the same benefit. Look for loose leaf green teas from Japan, China, and Nepal. Here are my favorite green tea suppliers, the first 3 are direct from the tea farms in Japan, the last two are american companies that travel the world’s best places for tea and choose really nice teas to bring back and sell:
Important folate is in green foods as well, a B vitamin which helps our body with detoxification.
Green foods are highly anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and also good for your brain, heart, and eyes. When all else fails … eat leafy greens …
When buying lettuce, looser leaves rather than tighter leaves seem to offer more nutrients. Dandelion greens are probably one of the most nutritious green foods.
This food group includes avocados and olives which provide so many powerful phenols. Avocados also contain a substantial amount of fiber and fat. Olives and olive oil are strong anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants which are particularly good for the heart and blood vessels protecting against heart disease.
Green foods are a plenty; artichokes, asparagus, sprouts, leafy greens of all types, okra, zucchini, box choy, celery, cucumbers, edamame, peas and more.
Blue/Purple/Black is the presence of anthocyanins which have been found to be very effective at keeping your brain healthy and staving off diseases such as dementia and alzheimer’s.
There are less purple foods to choose from, so pay attention to include purple and blue foods.
Berries are probably the most popular purple food, small berries are more nutritious than large berries. This is the same for all fruit, smaller fruit has more pigment rich skin vs. pulp, while bigger fruits have more pulp and sugar and less pigment rich skin. Seek out the smaller fruits and whenever possible, wild varieties. The little raspberries from the field behind your house are going to be substantially more nutrient dense than larger berries from the grocery store. Also if you eat the dried purple fruits such as raisins or figs, be aware these can come with a dose of sugar — naturally or added. Also you want to avoid the preservatives on dried fruits of BHT, BHA, and sulfites. And furthermore there is not really more nutrients in dried fruits, here is a chart from IFM (Phytonutrient Spectrum Comprehensive Guide) showing a comparison of 1 cup of dried apricot vs. fresh; Triple the calories (sugar) and less nutrients:
Nutrient Fresh Apricots Dried Apricots
74 (1 cup)
313 (1 cup)
Vitamin A (IU/calorie)
Vitamin C (g/calorie)
One of the ways I get purple foods in daily is by using fermented red/purple cabbages — then you get both the probiotic and purple benefits. Purple varieties of common foods like carrots, rice, cauliflower, bell peppers, and purple kale, do have more phytonutrients than their counterparts, they may cost more — but it is worth it! You will have less doctor bills!
Purple foods contain the famous resveratrol found in grape skins and in smaller quantities in chocolate, blueberries, and peanuts. Resveratrol reduces blood sugar and inflammation along with benefitting the entire cardiovascular system.
Purple foods include blueberries, eggplants, purple or red cabbages, purple potatoes, purple peppers, and figs.
A few more colors outside of the rainbow to cover yet. Let’s do a quick overview of each color and what it effects:
🍓 Red = Heart and Immune system, and liver
🥕Orange = Reproductive system, eyes, and skin
🍋 Yellow = Digestive Power.
🥬 Green = Liver and detoxification
🫐 Purple/Blue = Brain
Yet to come:
🧅 White/pale green = immune system
🌾 Brown/tan/whitish = colon
White or pale green foods represent garlic, onions, and leeks — the allium foods. These are rich in allicin which have potent anticancer/anti-tumor, immune boosting and antimicrobial powers — and they can have blood pressure lowering effects, too. These foods also contain flavonoids like quercetin, and kaempferol.
Kaempferol is a flavonoid, it is highly antioxidant and also antiinflammatory. Including onion or garlic in many dishes is one easy way to increase your antioxidants and stay one up in your free radicals vs. antioxidants balance.
The onion and garlic family in general is highly antiviral and very supportive of your immunity during cold and flu season. If you like raw onion, a few small bites of raw onion can relieve cold and flu symptoms.
To activate the allicin in garlic crush or chop your garlic and let it set for 5-10 minutes before cooking or using it — this will ensure you don’t lose any anti-bacterial and anti-viral components during cooking. Onion does not seem to need this waiting time to protect the components during cooking, but do offer more nutrients raw. In many dishes I will use both cooked onion for the flavor and add some raw onion for the nutrients (and more flavor).
The allium family is shied away from in yoga circles, the reason being they are too heating and can increase libido, which yogis are trying to decrease to use that energy for higher functions. Science does not reflect this libido increasing “side-effects”, at least that I am aware of. I personally find the benefits too great to give up this family of foods and have always eaten them — and will continue to do so.
There is a White/Tan/Brown category — this does not include cereals, bagels, cakes and cookies or even crackers — crackers are not very healthy, they are basically a dead food (some of the new “crackers” made from all seeds and spices do offer better nutrition). Whole grains such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, and buckwheat— buckwheat seems to have some additional nutritional benefit, are better — avoid a lot of gluten free grains and foods which are low in nutrients and often have added sugars. If you are gluten sensitive best to use white rice, brown or purple rice, and/or wild rice for your grains. I am not a fan of gluten free foods.
White/Tan/Brown foods are nuts, beans, spices, seeds, and whole grains. White/tan/brown foods are good sources of fiber, and do contain some anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties — due to their fiber content they can assist the liver with detoxification and hormone health.
Mushrooms are important to include regularly in your diet due to their ability to help your immune system. Mushrooms are a source of beta-glucons which helps your body build white blood cells. White blood cells eradicate bacteria and microbes you may get exposed to. Experiment with a variety of mushrooms for a variety of immune boosting compounds.
Hummus falls under this category and beans of all types really — though beans are best bought dried, then soaked overnight, and boiled 1 or more hours depending on the type of bean. Canned beans and the lining of the cans are problematic due to bisphenol content —no matter what they try to replace the bisphenol with, it is just as bad — so are best avoided. If you only have time for canned beans then rinse them well, this will help. When I am preparing dried beans I always make extras to last for a few days due to their prep time.
Nuts and seeds have a lot of phytonutrients, fiber, fats, minerals, and vitamins, they are worth eating a little of every day. Roasted nuts are a little easier to digest. Nut butters are good in small amounts and balance out a fruit very nicely — for example apple or pear with a thin layer of almond or cashew butter, tahini (sesame seeds) is also good on celery. Too much nut butter can be hard on digestion so be aware of your portion. I’ve seen many studies looking at nut consumption, it seems the more nuts you eat the longer you live.
Seeds contain lignans — especially flax seeds. Lignans are fiber related phytonutrients that act as antioxidants and phytoestrogens. A word on phytoestrogens, I’m not afraid of them and they don’t seem to increase estrogen related cancers, in fact they have more of a supporting role in that they block your receptors from absorbing xeno-estrogens in plastics which are highly correlated with hormone related cancers.
Lignans have much of the same benefits listed with all white/tan/brown foods but are also effective at reducing cancer by activating certain enzymes in the liver that help with deactivating toxins.
Oatmeal, a word on oatmeal – yes it is healthy but not if made sweet, then it becomes a blood sugar bomb. If savory oatmeal – say oatmeal on a bed of greens topped with black olives and pesto does not appeal to you then avoid the sugar, honey, or maple syrup and focus on adding cinnamon (which reduces blood sugar), nuts, seeds, and coconut milk. This will allow you the fiber and cholesterol lowering benefits of oatmeal without the blood sugar rush.
And last but not least on this list is chocolate and cocoa/cacao 🙂 Cocoa phytonutrients help your blood vessels expand benefiting brain and heart. Just be mindful to eat 70% or higher dark chocolate to avoid added sugars. Just a side note … cocoa and cacao are the same … somewhere in history it
was mis-spelled, what I read is that it is actually cacao but it got written up as cocoa and for some reason that is what stuck.
Other brown and tan foods include cauliflower, grits, coconut, coffee, tea, dates, jicama, celeriac root, and soy.
Raw veggie platters and iceberg lettuce ~ clarifying 2 pet peeves of mine
Those veggie platters that people bring to parties to try to bring something healthy that are made with raw broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and other vegetables that aren’t the best veggies for a raw vegetable platter — while its certainly better than nachos, you can do better. Broccoli and cauliflower is more nutritious cooked, and so are carrots as you learned. For a good raw veggie platter think:
- watermelon radish (with a pinch of salt)
- spring onions
- little tomatoes — yellow or cherry/grape tomatoes
And be mindful of the dip — most veggie dips are inflammation in a dish due to them mostly containing soy or canola oil — a sprinkle of salt does wonders, dips like tahini and nut butters, hummus, high quality brie or goat cheese are much better options than most “veggie dips” from a grocery store.
Beyond color ~ Food and EZ Water
Even though iceberg lettuce is not your most colorful or nutrient rich lettuce, what it does have to offer is essential hydration and a lot of EZ water. Many people have tossed away the idea of eating iceberg lettuce. While it may have less phytonutrients than romaine, it does offer a healthy dose of plant water — what is called phase 4 or EZ water, EZ = exclusive zone, because this phase of water excludes impurities like ice does. It is H3O2 and also called Living Water and crystalline water.
This is from the works for Dr. Gerald Pollack. Water is beyond liquid, ice, and steam, there is a 4th phase, a “gel like” component, this is more viscous and alkaline than H2O, it is crystalline like. When water is being frozen or melted it passes through this 4th phase and then turns back into H2O. You can find more information in his popular book “The Fourth Phase of Water Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor”.
This gel like crystalline water is water that is easily available and absorbable to our cells, just because we drink water does not mean our cells absorb it — especially RO or heavily filtered water. This structured water is in fruits and vegetables, animals, and you and me! We are made of this water too, it fills our cells and our joint capsules and is why our joints don’t squeak when we walk. It is in all living things — including plants. When we eat plants with a high water content, this is the water we are getting. Super beneficial.
EZ Water content in fruits and vegetables is highly absorbable for our cells. Some of the “bulk” water (H2O) we drink can turn into EZ water when are exposed to sunlight, infrared light, or when we are grounding with the Earth. We can get more of this water by eating fruits and vegetables that contain lots of water, from our own metabolic reactions that generate heat, and tools like a hyperbaric oxygen chamber will help our body make this important living water. Spring water, mountain water, and glacial melt water are all higher in EZ water. Though know your source— and highly important is to NOT buy water in plastic bottles, the plastic leaches and the bottles stay in the environment way too long.
Places in the world that tout to have healing waters, it is now known these places have high amounts of EZ water. These types of water are more easily absorbed and utilized by our cells.
EZ water can also hold energy and give energy like a battery! And its an anti-oxidant in the body because it reduces free radicals 🙂 Another good reason to eat lots of plants. More on EZ water in another topic.
Getting back to color ~ Eat colorful foods~
Eat colorful foods, fact is the most important part of your foods is not proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and their percentages, or even vitamins and minerals — but the 100s of 1000s of medicinal compounds, pigments, enzymes, and commensal bacteria in plant and animal foods that fuels and regulates the billions of processes happening in our body at every moment. Eating a rainbow of colors everyday in your diet ensures you get all these valuable micro-nutrients your body needs to thrive.
Your body builds yourself from the foods you eat — your brain is made from what you put in your mouth, so are your eyes, your heart and your skin. What are your building blocks?
Eat your Vegetables! Vegetables can reverse disease in our body. The now famous functional medicine dr. Dr. Terry Wahls reversed her progressive MS with diet. Being a traditional doctor when she got her diagnosis she followed all the norm protocols for MS in allopathic medicine only to continue to decline. When she got fed up with it all, she decided first to look at what her body is lacking then tried supplementation. This stopped the progression but did not reverse it. So she looked at what she would need to eat in food to equate to the same nutrients as her supplements — it was 9 cups of vegetables per day! In 1 year she went from being wheel chair bound to riding her bike over 20 miles! Check her out, she now has a famous protocol for MS that has been adopted and studied by the MS society.
Her protocol that reversed her disease was 9 cups of vegetables per day. She broke that down to 3 cups each leafy greens, cabbage foods, and non-starchy vegetables. While it may be a challenge to eat 9 cups of vegetables per day I would choose that over many other treatments with much worse side effects. For the people without diseases, just trying to be healthy it may not be necessary to eat that many vegetables (though it would be good for you!); personally I aim for 3-9 cups of vegetables each day.
3-9 cups of vegetables per day!
1-3 cups of leafy greens
1-3 cups of cooked cabbages
1-3 cups of non-starchy vegetables
Food and Sleep — the two most powerful things you do every day that are the #1 predictor of your health.
How does food do this? Food is not just fuel — food is medicine, food is information to our bodies, food is connection, and lastly food is energy.
Food carries informational molecules — codes that program your biology for better or worse with every bite. You eat literally pounds of material daily that are coding your body. Are you coding your body for inflammation, oxidative stress, and imbalances that depletes your energy, and turns on disease causing genes?
Or are you coding your body to reduce inflammation and balance your chemistry, which leaves you feeling better and vibrant? This is food as medicine, and food as information to our cells.
Eating food together is also an important part of what food provides — connections with family and friends, farmers who grow it, and even nature and the plant or animal itself.
What you put in your mouth makes a difference.
Your outer skin is a reflection of your inner skin
Pay attention to your skin; as your largest organ, the skin’s most important role is to protect us from the environment that surrounds us. You need lots of antioxidants in your blood stream to do just that. Every day your skin is exposed to UV radiation, toxins in the environment, chemicals in personal care products, and free radicals produced by our own cells. The connective tissue in your skin is particularly sensitive to the damaging effects of free radicals and inflammation in your body.
When toxins and free radicals build up they damage our skin cells — this is one of the first places we will start to notice toxin overload. The skin can not repair itself to do its job of maintaining our barrier without its building blocks that it needs to make collagen and stay hydrated. If your skin health is less than ideal, look to your diet!
Take an apple for example, when you slice it open it browns — that is free radical damage from oxygen hitting it, but if you put lemon on it, an antioxidant, the browning does not happen. Your skin’s way of “browning” includes thin skin, acne and breakouts, age spots, lines and wrinkles. Adding anti-oxidants will prevent that browning too.
Your outer skin is a reflection of your inner skin — the skin that lines your digestive tract.
Luckily it is as easy to fix … as easy as eating more vegetables that are rich in antioxidants … which can be an easy fix … but very challenging for many. The secret to making it easy is to find ways to prepare vegetables so you enjoy them. Enjoyment of food is important. You may have to try several different ways of preparations to find what you enjoy. It took me a couple years to figure out how to enjoy okra — and all it took was me to try roasting them in coconut oil, which was much easier than some of the other ways I experimented with.
If you want to improve your appearance and slow the aging process the secret is to eat vegetables.
Food is the biggest driver of imbalances in your body — and the biggest lever for rapid change and improvement. Pay attention to what you put in your mouth, it is one of the most important things you do every day.