They say we eat with our eyes first, and if you’ve ever marvelled how adding a bit of green to your plate makes your meal look fresher, healthier and tastier then you’ll know how true this is.
While it’s nice treating yourself to a bit of eye candy before you tuck in, it turns out there are actual health benefits to filling your plate with a rainbow of colours. And no, eating a bag of Skittles doesn’t count.
What does ‘eat the rainbow’ mean?
Basically, eat as many differently coloured fruit and veg as possible. That’s it.
Why should I care what colour my food is?
The colour of your food can tell you a lot about its nutrients. Think about your favourite unhealthy treats, they’re mostly on the beige side of things – crisps, deep fried chicken, cake – even the glossy brown of your favourite chocolate bar doesn’t exactly scream vitality, whereas the bright colours of a fruit salad are vibrant and full of life.
Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals, meaning that they’re good for us. They’re also typically low in calories, so good for snacking on and bulking out meals with. Yes, that is particularly condescending, but it’s true!
While it’s a good thing to keep in mind, don’t get too hung up about colours – it’s just a good and easy guide to follow on your quest to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
What does a vegetable’s colour tell me about its nutrients?
Differently coloured fruits and vegetables often have an emphasis on different vitamins and minerals.
You can literally ‘eat the rainbow’ if you try hard enough. For example, red vegetables (tomatoes, red peppers, radishes) are a good source of vitamin C and lycopene, an antioxidant which gives these vegetables their red colour and is thought to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Green vegetables (leafy greens including kale, spinach and lettuce as well as your bog-standard greens such as broccoli, courgettes and leeks) are incredibly nutrient-dense, with 67g of raw kale giving you 684% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin K, which is essential to help our blood clot.
Orange fruits and vegetables (oranges, sweet potatoes, butternut squash) are high in beta-carotene (good for eye health) and vitamin C (which helps to maintain healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage).
Why are vitamins and minerals important?
Vitamins and minerals are essential for good health. They literally do hundreds of things in the body, helping to keep things ticking along nicely. Some examples of their roles include helping to heal wounds, keeping your immune system fighting fit and helping to convert food into energy.
Making sure that you eat a variety of foods that are rich in various vitamins and minerals gives your body the best chance of staying healthy.
What if I don’t get enough vitamins?
Not getting enough vitamins in your diet can lead to a variety of vitamin-deficiency diseases, such as scurvy and rickets. If they sound old fashioned, it’s because in modern society we don’t struggle to get fresh fruit and veg, and a lot of the things we eat are fortified with vitamins.
Though it’s rare, it is still possible to get these diseases, with scurvy (which comes from not getting enough vitamin C) in particular found to be recently on the rise. It’s not nice – with severe weakness, join and leg pain, swollen bleeding gums, teeth falling out and red and blue spots on the skin are the delights that are in store for you if you’re unlucky enough to get it.
Can I just take a multivitamin?
Most people don’t need to as long as they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet. If you scrutinise the labels of multivitamins, you’ll often see that they’ll provide over 100% of your recommended daily allowance of some vitamins, which can potentially be harmful, or just plain useless in the case of vitamins like vitamin C, where anything your body can’t use is expelled from the body as waste. So you’ll be literally pissing money away.
However, the Department of Health and Social Care does recommend that everyone considers taking a vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter, as sunlight during these months isn’t strong enough for your body to make it.
Some people might need to take other vitamin supplements, but that’s something you should discuss with your doctor so that you can tell exactly what you’re deficient in and exactly how much you should be taking to bring your levels up to scratch.
So how can I boost my intake?
Ever heard of ‘hidden veg’? It’s hiding veg in your meals, something that parents often do to get some veg into fussy kids. Whether you’re 8 or 48, it’s a good way of getting closer to your 5-a-day without chomping on a raw carrot.
Here are some simple ways of boosting your fruit and veg intake:
- Add vegetables such as peas, sweetcorn and spinach to rice and pasta dishes.
- Keep a bag of frozen fruit in the freezer to add to porridge (you can get bags of frozen strawberries and bananas from Aldi which is perfect for this).
- Grate carrot into a bolognese, add heaps of peppers to a chilli and roast butternut squash to add to a lasagne – these little additions are barely noticeable and the calories are negligible, so win-win.
Don’t forget that tinned and frozen fruit and veg both count towards your 5-a-day and might be easier for you to get at the moment. And if you’re worried about the nutrients in tinned or frozen veg, they’re just as good as fresh. Plus they last longer, so you won’t find a bag of green slime that used to be spinach at the back of the fridge in a month’s time.