Why eating a rainbow of foods will make you healthier

Don’t miss out on life-boosting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Find out why colourful foods pack such a nutritional punch

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colourful food fruit and veg

Eat by the rainbow

Leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach are nutritional heavy hitters, but there are other brightly coloured foods that are equally important for optimum health. Vibrant red, blue, purple, orange and yellow fruit and vegetables deserve your mealtime attention too. According to Samara Felesky-Hunt, a Calgary-based registered dietitian, phytochemicals - the pigments that give these foods their dynamic colour - "help us maintain good health, and reduce the risk for chronic diseases." Take advantage of the entire spectrum of unique antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and load up your plate with a rainbow of foods every day.

Canada's Food Guide recommends that adult women eat seven to eight servings of fruit and vegetables per day while men should eat eight to 10. Here's a look at the colourful dining options awaiting your next meal.

 

Photo credit: © iStockphoto/carlosgaw

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cranberries

Red foods

Who?
Cranberries, tomatoes, watermelon, red bell peppers, cherries, Red Delicious apples, Gala apples, strawberries, raspberries, guavas, red onions, radishes, rhubarb, pink grapefruit, beets, red cabbage, small red beans, elderberries, red grapes, red kidney beans

Why eat red foods?

"Red foods have a very protective antioxidant effect. Their phytochemicals can ward off or inhibit tumors in our bodies," says Felesky-Hunt. Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guavas are bursting with the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene. Cooked tomatoes - think salsa, tomato paste and tomatoes sautéed in olive oil - offer the most potent levels of lycopene. Red Delicious apples are an excellent source of quercetin, an antioxidant that crushes cell-damaging free radicals that can cause premature aging, heart disease and cancer. Radishes, cherries, red cabbage, strawberries, cranberries and red grapes contain anthocyanin, another cancer fighting antioxidant that can also aid blood pressure, improve circulation, lower inflammation and boost the immune system.

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fresh blueberries

Blue and purple foods

Who?
Purple grapes, figs, plums, blackberries, raisins, eggplant, pomegranates, blueberries, acai berries, purple cabbage, passion fruit, purple potatoes, prunes, purple onions, bilberries

Why eat blue and purple foods?

Like red fruit and vegetables, blue and purple foods are plump with antioxidants especially anthocyanin. "It's most abundant in berries," says Felesky-Hunt. Fill up on plums, blueberries, blackberries and juice from acai berries to reap their tumor-busting benefits. Anthocyanin also helps protect the skin from sun damage, reduces the risk of stroke, improves memory and guards the cardiovascular system against plaque and LDL cholesterol damage. Purple grapes are the best source of resveratrol, a natural plant compound that battles age-related disease - so indulge in a bunch of grapes or a guilt-free glass of red wine.

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Carrots plate

Orange and yellow foods

Who?
Carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, yellow bell peppers, pineapple, pumpkin, corn, grapefruit, peaches, lemons, cantaloupe, papaya, winter squash, pears, mangoes, tangerines, nectarines, apricots

Why eat orange and yellow foods?
To up your intake of vitamin C and A, pile orange and yellow foods on your plate. Yellow bell peppers, papaya, and citrus fruit such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit come jam-packed with immunity-boosting vitamin C - the perfect antidote if you're fighting off a cold. Sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin are brimming with the antioxidant beta-carotene, "the precursor to vitamin A," says Felesky-Hunt. Our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. It helps keep our skin healthy, bolsters immune function and reduces the risk of eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Orange vegetables are so beneficial to your health that Canada's Food Guide recommends eating at least one serving each day.

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spinach large

Green foods

Who?
Broccoli, peas, Granny Smith apples, avocado, kale, asparagus, spinach, romaine lettuce, celery, arugula, cucumber, green bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, kiwi, artichokes, green beans, green grapes, honeydew melon, okra

Why eat green foods?
Dark green vegetables like kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts and collard greens are abundant in the eye-protecting antioxidant lutein. "It's a very important phytochemical that can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration," says Felesky-Hunt. Greens also offer generous doses of vital vitamins and minerals: spinach, broccoli and kale contain plenty of calcium, iron and B vitamins. Folate, one of the most important B vitamins for women of childbearing age, can help lower the risk of babies born with spine defects such as spina bifida. Also found in avocado and asparagus, folate can ward off heart disease and depression. Canada's Food Guide recommends eating at least one dark green vegetable each day.

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farmers market potatoes

White foods

Who?
Cauliflower, onions, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, leeks, bananas

Why eat white foods?
"White vegetables boost our immune system, and have anti-viral and anti-cancer compounds," says Felesky-Hunt. Mushrooms keep our immune system operating smoothly while garlic and onions contain high levels of allicin - an antioxidant that fights bacteria and infections, and reduces the risk of certain cancers. Ginger aids in digestion, bananas and potatoes pack plenty of potassium - good for heart, kidney, brain and muscle function - and you can get a wealth of fibre, vitamin C and folate from cauliflower and parsnips.

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