Eat the rainbow!
Last April, with the arrival of spring weather, I decided to go on a mono-color island (is that a term yet?). You probably heard about mono-meals which means that you’re eating one type of food at each meal, or about banana or watermelon island, which means that you are eating one type of food for a certain period of time and last but not least about a rainbow cleanse, which focuses on detoxing with juices that contain a wide variety of plant colors. The idea behind all these different approaches is to ease and facilitate the digestion, to give your system a rest and to reset the body. Well I decided to do something similar with a different twist. Eat from a different food color group each day, during 5 days for optimal nutrition, detoxification and physical & mental relaxation.
Why focusing on color?
The chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their significant color are called phytochemicals or phytonutrients (Phyto meaning plant in Latin). Epidemiological studies suggest that consumption of these nutrients may have disease preventive properties . Most foods do contain phytochemicals, but the easiest way to get them in is by eating more fruits and vegetables of different colors.
Phytochemicals in freshly harvested plant foods are the highest and degrade during processing, including cooking. Eating fruits and vegetables in their raw, natural state is therefore important. The exception to this ‘no-heating rule’ is carotenoids such as Beta-carotene (found in carrots) and lycopene (found in tomatoes). They may remain stable or even increase by cooking, however prolonged cooking should be avoided. Slow cooked carrot soup or tomato sauce might therefore be an excellent and healthy addition to a mainly raw diet.
It seems that most people don’t get enough phytochemicals in. To maximize your health you should be aiming at eating one cup of each color everyday. If you don’t want to think about this recommendation throughout the day and want to ‘just get it over with’ first thing in the morning, a mixed rainbow juice or rainbow smoothie for breakfast can be very helpful. However, being aware of what you eat and adding as much color from fresh plant foods as possible to every meal can help you to adopt healthy and balanced eating habits.
So here’s how my five days on mono colour island looked like.
Day 1 of the rainbow week was a trip to Orange Island. I’ve been loading up on beta-carotene, the pigment that gives orange foods their color and is converted in the body to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant, protecting the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals. It reduces risks of cancer, hydrates your skin and protects it during sun exposure, helps maintain good vision, regulates immune system and improves heart health by decreasing blood pressure. Although cooking improves the availability of carotenoids in foods, prolonged cooking should be avoided.
Phytochemicals in orange foods: i.a. Alpha Carotene, Beta-Carotene, Beta cryptoxanthin, Hesperetin.
Sources: Carrot, orange, tangerine, turmeric, sweet potato, mango, papaya, pumpkin, apricot, persimmon and peaches etc.
My Orange Menu
Breakfast: carrot-orange-mango smoothie with curcuma & cinnamon.
Lunch: Papaya monomeal.
Dinner: Big mango-carrot-papaya salad.
Day 2 on rainbow week was a trip to Green Island. Green fruits and vegetables contain a range of phytochemicals including lutein, zaexanthin & flavonoids. Benefits are a lower risk of some cancers, eye health, lung health, strong bones, strong teeth and rejuvenated muscles. So it might be a good idea to stock up on green foods if you’re working out a lot! Oh and the darker green, the better.
Phytochemicals in green foods: i.a. Lutein, zaexanthin, flavonoids.
Sources: cucumber, zucchini, green tea, spinach, broccoli, kale, parsley, green apple, celery, string beans, peas etc.
My Green Menu
Breakfast: Green juice with cucumber, green apple, lime, spinach, mint and wheatgrass powder. (get more green juice recipes here)
Lunch: Springrolls filled with green veggies and green apple with an avocado dipping.
Dinner: Veggie broth with string beans, peas, zuchinni and spinach with dill and lime.
Snack: Green apples
Day 3 of the rainbow week was Red Island. The phytochemicals that give red foods their color include lycopene and anthocyanidins, proven to fight heart disease and prostate cancer and to support urinary tract and DNA health.
Phytochemicals in red foods: i.a. lycopene, ellagic acid, quercetin, hesperidin, anthocyanidins
Sources: tomatoes, watermelon, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, red bell pepper, beets, cranberries etc.
My Red Menu
Breakfast: Watermelon monomeal (eat watermelon on its own, combining it with other fruits/foods causes it to ferment in your body which causes digestive problems like bloat/gas etc).
Lunch: Monomeal of red apples.
Dinner: Big jar of red chevice (tomatoes, red bell peppers and beets with lemon juice and apple vinnegar).
Desert: Cherry-banana nicecream.
On day 4 of Mono Color Island I ate white fruits & veggies only. I didn’t know but apparently only 14% (!) of the people eat enough foods from the white food-group. And we’re not talking about pasta and bread here, we’re talking whole plant based white foods. Their key benefit is increased immunity, healthy bones and circulatory health. I started the day with a cabbage-ginger juice. The taste is something I don’t get used to, but doing this daily has great benefits for healing your gut if you have any symptoms of IBS (like me) or leaky gut syndrome for example.
Phytochemicals in white foods: i.a. EGCG, allicin, quercetin, indoles, glucosinolates
Sources: cauliflowers, coconuts, onions, ginger, pears, bananas, fennel, mushrooms and turnips etc.
My White Menu
Breakfast: Banana-cashew mylk.
Lunch : Monomeal of pears.
Dinner : Cauliflower rice with grilled mushrooms and grilled cauliflower.
Blue/purple fruits and veggies are rich in flavonoids and contain the highest concentration of antioxidants (the darker the food, the more). They help prevent cancer and urinary tract infections, are anti-aging, good for heart, liver and healthy vessels.
Phytochemicals in purple/blue foods: i.a. flavonoids, resveratrol, anthocyanins, phenolics
Sources: Blackberry, blueberry, elderberry, purple grapes, plums, black beans, eggplant, red cabbage, acai berry etc.
My Purple/Blue Menu
Breakfast: Purple grapes and blueberries.
Lunch: Berry Sorbet.
Dinner: Eggplant lasagna with red cabbage / red cabbage salad.
I wanted to do one more day with yellow foods, but my schedule didn’t really allow me to. But since yellow and orange foods are often considered in the same group, I felt free to cheat a bit and skip this one 😉 I might do a yellow day another time.
Next time you’re in the produce section of your supermarket I challenge you to shop according to color and see if you meet the ‘1 cup of each color everyday’ advice! Good luck!
With love from the Happy Earth Kitchen
1. Hung, H.C., et al., Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of major chronic disease. J Natl Cancer Inst
2. UC Cooperative Extension Center for Health and Nutrition Research Department of Nutrition, University of California Davis, CA – Nutrition and Health Info-Sheet for health Professionals