Eating the Rainbow: Phytochemicals at Work

Fruit Salad: red apple, green apple, red grapefruit, orange

I started using this phrase when my oldest daughter was around two years old.  I was trying to teach her the importance of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, along with teaching her primary colors.  Food choice and toddler education go hand in hand. Perfect!  While at the grocery store I would allow her to choose one fruit or vegetable with each color: Purple, Red, Orange/Yellow, Green, White.  After a while, I would just ask, “have you eaten the rainbow today?”.

We so often get in a habit of only eating what’s convenient, or in most cases, what we are used to eating already.  Grapes, apples, salad mix, green beens, corn…  It takes work to branch out and try an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable.  There’s nothing wrong with any one of these, but it’s important to get a variety.

Here’s why:

Fruits, vegetables and whole grains have what’s called phytochemicals.  Don’t be scared… I’m not going to get all class room on you, but this is so important!  Phytochemicals are in plants that basically help fight cancer cells in your body.. sickness, too.  I tell my kids that phytochemicals are cancer scavengers.  They help us fight off disease and stay healthy.

The important thing is that it is best to get a variety of phytochemicals.  Different phytochemicals are in different fruits and vegetables.  You can tell by the color they exhibit.  Here are some examples.

Red: red bell peppers, red grapefruit, tomatoes, raspberries, cherries, watermelon
Yellow/Orange: Pineapple, pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, citrus fruits
Green: Kale, lettuce, beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
Purple: eggplant, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, beets
White: onions, garlic, apples, parsnips

One may start to feel overwhelmed with how in the world they could possibly achieve consuming this variety of fruits and vegetables.  It’s hard enough trying to get in the 5-A-Day rule, right?  Here’s how I do it.

  1.  Eat 1 cup of each color every day
  2. Mix and match fruits to create a colorful fruit salad
  3. Include vegetables at breakfast (sautéed peppers and onions in a frittata, spinach/kale smoothie, sautéed greens with eggs)
  4. Eat a large mixed salad with lunch or dinner
  5. Write down/plan everything I eat
My lunch yesterday: fruit salad, sautéed collards and red onion, mixed greens, chicken with rosemary, thyme and pepper (BTW, that is OPA dressing.. greatest thing to ever happen to salad)

I found a really cool pictograph on Precision Nutrition’s website a while ago.  It’s been hanging on my fridge ever since.  Basically, it keeps me focused on what I’m eating, what I should be eating, and how I can include more variety of fruits and vegetables.  Here’s the link:


Fruit salad is a big deal around here. Mixed peppers are pretty useful, too. Add in some power greens, along with a tomato and a few carrots.. boom!  It’s really not as hard as you think.  I try to eat 1 cup of each color everyday, but how about starting with trying to add in one new color every week for a month.  Keep with your regular fruits and vegetables and branch out to something new.

collards with red onion- sauté slightly with a little olive oil until tender

Because it’s wintertime, soup is a great resource for cancer-fighting phytochemicals.  I’m making a delicious Butternut Squash soup this week and can’t wait for you to try it!  Post coming later this week.




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