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  • Writer's pictureAbove Health Nutrition

The Science Behind Eat the Rainbow

It sounds like a PBS statement but we want you to know the REAL science behind why “Eating the Rainbow” is SO powerful. And what is even more wonderful?! Once we know all the juicy science, we can continue to use this simple statement to teach our children, friends, family and community about the value of incorporating a variety of color into the diet.

Our bodies benefit from a variety of foods - I like to say the foundation of nutrition is variety! And the science confirms it. Eating a variety of colorful foods will give you a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients to support more optimal health.

What Gives Plants Their Color? Phytonutrients!

Phytonutrients are the plant compounds that give them their vibrant colors. Each plant color has a variety of unique types of phytonutrients present. And each color provides slightly different benefits in overall health and aging.

Therefore, when we say “eat the rainbow” we are actually highlighting eating these powerful colorful plant chemicals to get access to all of their protective anti-inflammatory, immune supportive, mood boosting and overall optimal health!

Phytonutrients and antioxidants play a role in protecting our mitochondria, supporting detoxification and recharging active protective nutrients in the body to protect against inflammation.

  • These compounds support:

  • Energy production

  • Effective detoxification

  • Balancing inflammation

When our bodies experience stress, there are higher levels of oxidative stress. This means there is an imbalance between free radicals, or compounds that can damage our cells, and the antioxidant defenses our bodies use to protect cells from damage. This imbalance in oxidative stress can lead to inflammation, aging and risk of disease states and ill health symptoms such as IBS and leaky gut.

Phytonutrients and antioxidants are the superheroes that protect against these free radicals to reduce and balance oxidative stress and inflammation - which is why they are crucial to our diet!

Food As Medicine

There are about 10,000 phytonutrients that have been identified in plants and some have not even been researched yet! When we eat real, whole foods, we consume an abundant amount of antioxidants and phytonutrients. This outlines the value of food as medicine and the importance of eating colorful, nutrient dense food!

The health benefits of fruits and vegetables are made from a synergistic combination of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

We have highlighted the top 5 most powerful phytonutrients and the color family they belong to below to give you a taste of just how important color is as part of your food as medicine approach!

Phytonutrients & Antioxidants…

  • Play a pivotal role in inflammation, energy and stress pathways

  • Increase beneficial bacteria

  • Increase short chain fatty acid (a key anti-inflammatory compound produced by beneficial bacteria)

  • Increase anti-inflammatory activity

  • Decrease pathogenic bacteria

  • Support detoxification

Now let’s break this down into COLOR!

Key phytonutrient: Anthocyanin

Benefits: Anti-cancer, brain & heart health, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, cell protection

Sources: Apples, cranberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cherries, pomegranate, beets, watermelon

Key phytonutrients: Carotenoid

Benefits: Brain, eye and heart health, reproductive health, anti-inflammatory, cell protection, digestive health, immune health

Sources: Carrots, mango, turmeric sweet potatoes, bell peppers,citrus, pineapple, pumpkin, winter squash, papaya, ginger root, lemon

Key phytonutrients: Sulforaphane

Benefits: Bone, brain and heart health, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, hormone balance, digestive and detoxification support

Sources: Broccoli sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach, mustard greens, endive, arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, watercress, fresh & dried herbs

Key phytonutrients: Resveratrol

Benefits: Boost brain health, protect against certain cancers, manage symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis, anti-inflammatory, destroys free radicals, supports digestive health

Sources: Blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, cabbage, grapes, figs, plums, purple potatoes, raisins, olives, prunes

Key phytonutrients: Lignan

Benefits: Anti-cancer, bone & brain health, promote motility and the elimination of intestinal gas, digestive health, immune health, metabolic health, anti-inflammatory

Sources: Mushrooms, bananas, garlic, cauliflower, ginger, legumes, nuts and seeds

  • Aim for 30 different plants each week!

  • Pick out a new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store

  • Get involved in a local Community Supported Agriculture share to try local seasonal produce

  • Aim for 5 different colored fruits and vegetables each day!

  • Soup, stews and smoothies are all a great way to add variety

  • Add a handful of two different types of veggies to eggs or a stir fry

  • Incorporate a fruit or vegetable as a snack

  • Utilize frozen, cooked and raw fruits and vegetables.

  • Frozen produce preserves nutrients and is often frozen at peak ripeness

  • Can use this in any recipe that calls for a fresh item

  • Frozen fruit and vegetables give smoothies a creamy texture

  • Eating a variety of both cooked and raw can help deliver phytonutrients as some are more absorbed in cooked and some in raw.

  • Buy organic when possible.

  • Phytonutrients and antioxidants are found in higher abundance in organic produce.

  • Add in fermented foods.

  • This is a great way to increase vegetable intake, phytonutrients and they promote gut health!


1 tsp olive oil 1 cup chopped onion

4 ounces of pancetta ⅔ cup of chopped celery

1 cup roughly chopped carrots 2 cups squash (peeled and cubed)

1 tsp minced garlic ½ tsp cumin

¼ tsp paprika 1 cup chopped green beans

1 cup of uncooked brown rice 1 tsp mineral rich salt

¼ tsp black pepper to taste 6-7 cups of bone broth or veggie broth

2 cups leafy greens

Stove Top Directions:

  1. In a large pot add olive oil, pancetta, onion, carrots and celery. Saute 4-5 minutes.

  2. Add squash, garlic and rest of spices. Saute for an additional 4 minutes.

  3. Add broth, bring to a boil, then add rice and reduce the heat.

  4. Cook on low uncovered for about 25 minutes or until rice is cooked.

  5. Add spinach and stir until wilted.

  6. Serve with toppings of choice like sea salt, nutritional yeast, fresh herbs or red pepper flakes

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