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Are you eating a rainbow?

I’m a huge fan of brightly coloured things and so I thought it would be good reminder to us all to talk about colourful foods, especially at the moment during the dark winter months. Any colour we can add in to our lives at this time of year can really help to lift the mood.

Surveys show that the majority of adults still don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. In fact, as of 2013, 76 percent of adults didn’t eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. That means most adults are missing out on the benefits of a plant-rich diet.

Diversifying your diet with colourful eating is good for your palate and your health. Fruits and vegetables add more than just splashes of vibrant colour too.

Each colour represents different phytonutrients, or plant-derived micronutrients, that can support many systems in your body. Colourful eating means helping to maintain your cardiovascular and immune system, your eyes, your brain, and healthy cellular communication.

Red

Red fruits and vegetables often contain beneficial compounds like carotenoids and flavonoids.

Commonly found carotenoids include beta-carotene,lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene. Many of these act as antioxidants in the body, helping to neutralise free radicals. This activity can help protect your cells and support your health.

Additionally, these carotenoids play an important role in good vision. In the retinol form, it’s a necessary component of a chemical reaction—occurring in the retina—that ultimately helps with low-light and colour vision.

To boost levels of lycopene in your diet, reach for tomatoes—fresh or tinned. Get creative with how you incorporate colourful eating into your meals. This will keep you from getting bored.

Red-hued foods contain vitamin C and phytonutrients, like flavonoids—which also act as antioxidants.

Consider spicing up your shopping list with a variety of red foods ie: beetroot, red cabbage, radishes, tomatoes, red grapes, strawberries, pomegranates and red peppers.

Orange & Yellow

Orange and yellow plants also offer essential vitamins and minerals—vitamin C, folic acid and potassium. For example, citrus provides large amounts of vitamin C, an antioxidant and essential nutrient.

Examples include: sweet potatoes, sweet corn and turmeric, lemon, orange, tangerine, grapefruit, pineapple, cantaloupe and papaya.

Green

Green plants provide a wealth of carotenoids and essential nutrients in the form of vitamins A and K, and potassium. Leafy greens also offer a healthy dose of calcium (a lot more than found in dairy products too). They also play a role in cell signalling, support your detoxification pathways, aid in the production of glutathione and have antioxidant activity.

You can get these nutrients by eating cruciferous plants, or vegetables within the Brassica family. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale are some of your options. One group of researchers has shown that mustard greens and cabbage are particularly high in these beneficial compounds.

Also consider chowing down on spinach, kale, turnip greens, or collards if you want your plate to go green.  Examples include broccoli, bok choy, arugula, kale, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, asparagus, herbs, apples, pears, green grapes, kiwi, honeydew melon and limes.

Blues & Purples

Plants that are purple and blue in hue are rich in anthocyanin pigments. These micronutrients act as antioxidants, primarily helping to protect cells and tissues from oxidative damage.

A group of researchers analysed 15 fruits and seven vegetables to determine the content of these beneficial pigments in each. Of the blue and purple foods, the following had the highest concentration of anthocyanins: wild blueberry, elderberry, black raspberry, and eggplant.  Other examples of blue foods include purple potatoes, purple cabbage, purple cauliflower, prunes, figs, plums, grapes, eggplant and purple- or blue-coloured berries.

Understandably, it can be difficult to incorporate these items into meals for picky eaters or those pressed for time. However, you can employ some tricks to increase the amount of colourful eating you’re doing. And here’s a secret: they’ll taste good too!

Add mild-tasting greens, like spinach, into smoothies. If you’re averse to vegetables in a smoothie, offset the flavour with something sweet, like strawberries. Try almond milk and banana for creaminess, your greens, and frozen strawberries to keep it cool and thick. Blend and you’ll be well on your way to the recommended daily five cups of fruits and vegetables in one on-the-go meal.

Try a slightly healthier version of mashed potatoes by substituting one-third of them for steamed root vegetables, like carrots and turnips. Even cauliflower can serve as a substitute. Mash the mixture together with salt and a small amount of butter or a healthier alternative—like olive or avocado oil. This alternative will still be the creamy, starchy dish you know and love, but with more phytonutrients in the mix and a dash of fibre to boot. And limiting potato intake has been shown to be a good move for your weight.

Opt for a health-conscious dessert by subbing chilled coconut milk and your favourite berries for ice cream. Your sweet tooth will be satisfied and you’ll get a big dose antioxidants and flavonoids, too.