Rainbow diets are a great way to get all of the nutrition you need, as well as making your meals exciting and delicious all at the same time! In part one we looked at what benefits Green, Orange, Red and White foods bring to the table, so let’s keep going and see what the other colours mean!
Raving about red…
Strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes immediately come to mindwhen thinking about redfoods. All are super-nutritious, as is the great winter red fruit, the pomegranate, with its sweet, sour and tangy flavours. Nutritionists love the pomegranate too, but more so because of its superfood powers! The rich red juice of the pomegranate is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is a concentrated source of antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin C, and minerals too.
Strawberries and other red berries, including cranberries are known rich sources of ellagitannins, polyphenols that the body uses to convert to ellagic acid. Ellagic acid has been widely studied in the laboratory, and scientists think it may play a key role in preventing cancer. Another red gem is the little cherry!
Cherries come around later in the year and for a relatively short period of time, so make the most of them when they do appear. Their deep red colour again reveals the many amazing antioxidant pigments. These anthocyanin chemicals found in cherries are particularly effective in reducing pain and inflammation, just like pomegranate juice. Cherry juice and pomegranate juice are both commercially produced nowadays (look for 100% juice) and a perfect way to get your daily antioxidant hit!
Cherry juice has been found to help reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, and in turn, helping with muscle recovery. Cherries are also a great food if you, or someone you know suffers with gout. Interestingly, cherries have also been found to contain melatonin, which is actually a hormone. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and regulates the body’s internal clock, or sleep-wake cycle. It has other roles too, and research has shown that people who have heart attacks have low melatonin levels. It also plays an important role in the immune system.
Tomatoes are worth picking out amongst the red food group, partly because they are one of the best food sources of well-known antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene is one of nature's most powerful antioxidants, and in fact you’ll find it in most red foods, as well as those foods with a pink or pinky-red hue. Think of watermelon, red or pink grapefruits and you are looking at some lycopene! Cooked tomatoes have very high levels of lycopene, and have been found to effectively prevent prostate cancer as well as be helpful to maintain good cardiovascular health.
An excellent way of ensuring a quality dose of lycopene is by using lots of tomato puree or rich tomato sauces in your cooking! Remember however that raw, ripe & juicy red tomatoes will have higher levels of other useful nutrients that have not been lost via cooking, so ensure you are getting these into your diet too. Lycopene may also slow the hardening of arteries and the growth of other cancer-related tumours.
Beetroot is begging for a mention of its own, with its deep red (almost purple) colour. There has been some significant and very interesting research of late, with regards to beetroots, particularly beetroot juice. Science has revealed the effectiveness of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure, as well as improving exercise endurance and stamina. This is due to the juice being especially high in nitrates, compounds that convert to nitric oxide in the body.
Nitric oxide has several metabolic effects, such as dilating blood vessels (hence its blood pressure lowering effects) and helping deliver oxygen to working muscles. These and other findings of the health benefits of beetroot juice are also potentially relevant to those with heart disease, breathing complications or modern-day metabolic diseases.
New research from University of Exeter in the UK suggests that a simple beetroot juice could be a very worthy contender to take the crown as a top sports drink. Certainly beetroot juice is much healthier, compared with many of the sugar loaded sports and energy drinks on the market.
According to the findings published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, drinking half a litre of beetroot juice every day improved exercise endurance by 16 per cent, compared with when they drank a blackcurrant cordial. The boost in nitric oxide after drinking beetroot juice makes exercise less tiring. Beetroots are also a good source of the B vitamin, folic acid. Folic acid is critically involved in normal red cell production, so all in all, don’t be afraid to go bananas for beetroot!
Bursting for blue and purple…
Blueberries, black berries, grapes, aubergine, plums and figs are some of the purple foods we can include in our diets, and for great reason too! You will find some of the highest levels of anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidin pigments in these foods – potent antioxidants found in the fruit, bark, leaves and seeds of plants. They provide flavour and astringency as well as powerful health benefits. Proanthocyanidin-rich grape seed extract for example has been found to have preventive actions on diseases such as atherosclerosis, gastric ulcer, large bowel cancer, cataracts and diabetes.
One the easiest ways to get daily berry goodness year-round, is to buy frozen summer berries from your local supermarket! By all means choose fresh whenever you can, but fresh are not always available, or affordable. So make the use of frozen, and throw them into smoothies, or onto cereals or into porridge. Of course you can just enjoy a big bowl full, with some cool natural yogurt, and a sprinkling of raw seeds – a perfect breakfast, or pudding.
Fresh plums and figs make excellent low sugar, low GI snacks, as well as being easy to carry or keep in the car. Both plums and figs also happen to be excellent sources of vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, Vitamin C, and fibre. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and other phytochemicals, but are also a significant source of the trace mineral manganese, and Vitamin K too. Grapes have been positively linked to fighting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease and other ailments. Aubergines are a good soup or stew ingredient, and famously known as a key food in ratatouille, a dish in which you can use plenty of tomato puree and get your lycopene too! Aubergines are very low in calories, yet rich sources of potassium and calcium. Blueberries are often singled out as little nutritional powerhouses, which they are! Anthocyanins are the pigments responsible for the purple tint of these fruits, and purple veggies too, and are known for their antioxidant qualities. In addition to anthocyanins cancer-fighting potential, these plant chemicals also support the vascular system.
There are over 4,000 different plant chemicals in foods that present us with a spectrum of colours to create a truly healthy and balanced “rainbow diet” of wholefoods. Nutrition today, and what is now known about healthy eating, extends far beyond the vitamins and minerals we learned about in school or college.
So there you have it! Now you know which food colours mean what and you can start filling your plate with vibrant and nutritious meal ideas! And as it happens, you’re in luck! Coming up next, we show you what a “rainbow diet” looks like in practise. Discover some great “colourful” ideas on what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stay tuned!