I’m sure by now that we’re all familiar with this Skittles slogan. But did you know that it’s a great idea to take the candy’s marketing advice? Eating a rainbow of mostly vegetables and some fruit is excellent nutrition advice. There are significant benefits to eating different colored vegetables in your diet. It’s one of the best ways to ensure you are getting a variety of nutrients and a key factor in maintaining oral tolerance.
One of the important keys to healing your body, including your gut, is to get enough macro- and micro-nutrients. Your body cannot heal if it does not have the tools to do so. We must provide our bodies with these tools through a healthy, anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense diet. In order to meet this vast array of nutritional needs, variety is key. Each vegetable and fruit has its own chemical and nutritional composition, so it is important to eat as many different kinds as possible to gain the benefits of all the different colored vegetables for the sake of our health.
Autoimmune protocol recommendations for daily vegetable intake is a minimum of 8 servings, or 9 servings if you follow Wahl’s Protocol recommendations. That works out to around three servings at each meal, not including snacks or fruit. This number should be heavy on the vegetables and light on the fruit to keep nutritional value up and fructose intake down. It may sound like a lot, but your body needs it. One cup of raw or cooked vegetables or fruit or two cups of raw leafy greens constitutes a single serving. The benefits of all the different colored vegetables is worth the effort to get them in your diet every day.
A Note About Fruit
When it comes to fruit, those following the AIP should keep their fructose intake to less than 20g per day. While this might seem restrictive, it usually works out to between two and five servings of fruit per day, depending on what fruits you chose. Berries are an excellent choice of fruit as they are lower in sugar (better for blood sugar regulation) and are very high in a variety of micro-nutrients and antioxidants, which are beneficial for reducing inflammation. Citrus is also a good choice for its lower sugar and high vitamin content.
How to Get All Those Veggies in Your Diet
Soup is an excellent way to pack a lot of veggies, and a lot of different varieties, into a meal. Cooking them makes them particularly easy for the body to digest. Broth and stocks used in soups add extra nutrients and bone broth in particular is good for the gut. Smoothies can be helpful for reaching your daily produce intake but should be consumed in conjunction with a meal, as chewing is an important signal for the functioning of the entire digestive system and smoothies by themselves can destabilize blood sugar levels.
In amongst all those daily vegetable and fruit servings, it is important to incorporate something from every colour each day. The colour of a vegetable tells us a lot about the nutritional value of that particular food since fruit and vegetables gets their colour from the phytochemicals found inside. Each phytochemical has its own set of nutrients and provides the body with different tools.
Red produce is known for its high levels of lycopene, anthocyanin, beta carotene and vitamin C, and manganese. Lycopene is a carotenoid with powerful antioxidant properties that helps reduce oxidative stress by balancing free radical levels in the body. Research is also looking at lycopene for fighting cancer, reducing rates of heart disease, improving eyesight, prevent sunburn, improve bone health, protect the brain, and reduce neuropathic pain. (1) Anthocyanins are flavonoid polyphenols found in high quantities in red, purple, and blue fruits and veggies. They are believed to also provide protection against oxidative stress and play an important role in many important cellular processes in the body, including supporting gut health and supporting a healthy immune system. (2)
Two of the most popular red vegetables are tomatoes and peppers, which can be highly inflammatory and contribute to chronic pain in many people. Anti-inflammatory red produce includes beets, strawberries, rhubarb, radishes, raspberries, pomegranate, apples, cherries, cranberries, and some chard (red stalks).
Oranges & Yellows
Yellow and orange foods are also high in antioxidants, phytonutrients, beta carotene, and vitamins B and C. The yellows tend to be higher in vitamin C, while the oranges tend to be higher in B vitamins. You can read more about the importance of the family of B vitamins at my post for The Family That Heals Together. Yellow and orange foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, peaches, nectarines, apricots, oranges, bananas, papaya, persimmons, ginger, turmeric, and golden beets.
Whites & Browns
White and tan/brown foods are strong anti-bacterials, anti-virals, and anti-fungals, as well as being high in vitamin K and folate. White veggies tend to be rich in organosulfur compounds, especially brassicas and alliums. Sulfur is vital for life and important to many functions in the body, including methylation. Allicin, found in onions and garlic, may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and help fight infections by supporting the immune system. White and brown fruits and veggies tend to be good sources of potassium and selenium. Some common white or tan foods are mushrooms, cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, white sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic. A good recipe to get you started with your white/brown veggies is my Creamy Seafood Chowder.
Blues & Purples
Blue and purple foods are nutritional powerhouses full of antioxidants, flavonoids (including quercetin and resveratrol) and inflammation fighters. Like red fruits and veggies, they are rich in anthocyanins and all the benefits that go with that. Resveratrol has been studied for protective effects against heart disease and cancer. Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are a good source of ellagic acid, a polyphenol with strong antioxidant properties. It has been studied for its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects as well as its therapeutic effects on obesity and compounding health concerns. Quercetin is a pigment flavonoid found in deeply coloured fruits and vegetables and is probably best known for its anti-inflammatory and immune modulating effects. (3) Good choices for blues and purples include blueberries, blackberries, saskatoons, currants, chokecherries, figs, purple broccoli and cauliflower, purple kohlrabi, grapes, plums, and purple carrots. (4, 5, 6)
Finally, there are the green foods (aka: everything else), which get their signature colour from chlorophyll and should be eaten at every meal. Greens are packed with a very wide variety minerals, vitamins, and almost every known nutritional metal! There’s a good reason your mom was always on you to eat your greens! In addition to eating something green with every meal, it is important to vary your source of greens. The three main categories are:
- sea vegetables, such as kelp, seaweed, dulse, nori, wakame, and chlorella,
- sulfuric vegetables, such as brassicas, which includes broccoli, bok choy, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, arugula, collards, and watercress; asparagus, leeks, green onions, chives, and
- leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, dandelion, beet greens, lettuce, lamb’s quarter, and clover.
This list could go on for a while, but some of my favourites green foods are kale, lettuce, avocados, broccoli, broccolini/broccolette, spinach, arugula, chard, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, cucumber, leeks, and fresh herbs like basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and cilantro.
How to do It
In order to incorporate each colour into my daily diet, the rule of thumb I use is to aim to eat between two and three different colours at each meal. Since greens should be eaten at every meal, I try to add one or two additional colours to the greens to make sure I get them all in during the day. If I have a salad, I’ll often have four or more colours in one meal (carrots, mushrooms, blueberries and/or strawberries, for example)! As long as I have adequate variety in my fridge, this strategy usually works well. This makes sure I gain the benefits of all the different colored vegetables and fruit for my health.
Who would have thought that Wrigley (the maker of Skittles) was on to something! Eat the rainbow and enjoy the benefits of all the different colored vegetables and fruit!