Have you ever been told that any meal you eat should resemble the colors of a rainbow? If not, now is your time to learn about how the colors of fruits and vegetables can dramatically influence your health.

Each fruit or vegetable has a unique color and function. Having a variety of colors in your meal can help you intake necessary vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals and give you a more balanced diet. Although you can supplement with a specific vitamin or mineral, eating your fruits and vegetables together creates a synergistic effect and yields the maximum amount of health benefits. Here is a breakdown of the rainbow spectrum of foods and what benefits you can achieve by simply adding them to your meals at least once a day.

Dark Cruciferous Greens
Cruciferous vegetables are rich sources of sulphur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates. Their taste is often described as pungent, bitter or spicy. These types of vegetables include kale, bok choy, spinach, arugula and broccoli and are especially important in helping detoxify your body. Detoxification is a process your liver undergoes to help you rid and neutralize the chemical wastes and byproducts you produce each day.

There are two main phases of detoxification. Phase 1 consists of processing chemicals to make them ready for Phase 2. Phase 2 is where you excrete the toxins from your body. These types of vegetables contain sulphoraphane, an indirect antioxidant, which acts to induce Phase 2 detoxification. Other benefits of sulphoraphane include tumor inhibition and systemic anti-inflammatory effects.

Greens
Vegetables in this color spectrum contain phytochemicals known as lutein and indoles. Lutein, part of the carotenoid family, is a powerful antioxidant that is essential for vision. Indoles have been known for their powerful anti-carcinogenic effects. Look for foods such as avocados, artichokes, green cabbage, celery, lettuce and peas. Common garden herbs such as thyme, basil, sage and mint are also full of phytochemicals. These herbs not only add flavor and freshen the taste of your meal, they can be used as a substitute for salt, sugar and fat.

Reds
Lycopene and anthocyaninis are the two most common constituents found in red colored fruits and vegetables. Lycopenes are carotenoids known for antioxidant and anti-proliferative effects. Tomatoes, guava, apricots and watermelon are well known for their lycopene content. The bioavailabity of lycopene is highest in cooked and puree tomatoes and this is a common dietary recommendation given to men with prostate conditions. Anthrocyanins are flavonoids that are known for the pigment found in foods such as berries, pomegranates, red onions and kidney beans. These pigments boost your overall health and exert their antioxidant effects throughout your entire body.

Oranges
When you see the color orange, it is no doubt that the first thing you think about is either a sour citrus flavor or Vitamin C, but those are not the only things oranges should have a reputation for. In addition, orange colored fruits and vegetables have a number of other benefits ranging from heart to immune health. Beta-carotene, a form of Vitamin A, has strong anti-viral properties and increases immune function by increasing the number of T lymphocytes. Satisfy a sweet craving with healthy foods by making a quick and easy fruit salad with grapefruit, peaches, papaya, tangerines, mangos and cantaloupe.

Yellows
You will see some overlap of similar actions between the yellow and orange foods. Yellow is a unique color that represents joy and happiness that perhaps may be related to the way these fruits and vegetables taste. Lemons, bananas, golden delicious apples, yellow peppers, corn, pineapples and squash are excellent in reducing inflammation, stimulate wound healing, and contain properties that strengthen your teeth and bones.

Blues/Purples
You may think that adding blue/purple fruits or vegetables to a daily meal may be challenging, however, it can be as simple as throwing some blueberries, blackberries, plums or raisins into a breakfast meal. This color group is specifically known for lutein, zeaxanthin, quercetin and resveratrol components. Zeaxanthin has been studied for its effects on vision and how it helps prevent age-related macular degeneration. Quercetin, another type of flavonoid, not only is anti-inflammatory, it also has some blood pressure lowering effects.

As you can see, there are endless benefits to eating a wide variety of foods. The colors represent a small clue to the role of that particular food, so get started and have fun coloring your rainbow!

Authored by Dr. Linda Khoshaba, Integrative Health