How to Eat the Rainbow

Coach Jan, MS, BS, NASM, ACE

Jan Green is a personal trainer and health coach certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. She also has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in health promotion. Jan is passionate about helping others thrive. She’s dedicated to teaching that health, joy, and quality of life are inextricably connected. A true science geek who is unabashedly authentic, she’s a spunky mix of fact and fun.

We’ve known since we were kids that we need to eat our fruits and vegetables for good health. But why? Is it really that important?

It turns out that eating from a “rainbow plate” can lead to a longer, healthier life. A “rainbow plate” is colored with a variety of nutrient-dense and naturally-vibrant whole foods. 

You may have heard the popular slogan, “Taste the Rainbow.” Unfortunately, artificial colors like those found in those candies don’t count when it comes to creating a “rainbow plate.” The colors of the rainbow we’re referring to are plant-based.

Why Are Foods Different Colors?

Have you ever wandered the produce section of the grocery store and wondered why fruits and vegetables are different colors? They’re colored by natural chemicals called phytochemicals or phytonutrients

The term “phytonutrients” is derived from the Greek word “phyto” meaning “plant” and “nutrients” meaning that they provide nourishment. All plant-based foods — beans, nuts, herbs, grains, mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables — contain thousands of phytonutrients.

Phytonutrients protect plants from threats like germs, bugs, and ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. When people eat plant-based foods, they assimilate those same protective properties into their bodies.

The Benefits of a Rainbow Plate

A “rainbow plate” is not only beautiful; it’s powerful. 

According to, eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables is associated with the following benefits:

  • Decreases risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
  • Protects against certain types of cancers.
  • Reduces risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Build stronger bones.
  • Reduces risk of developing kidney stones.
  • Decreases risk of bone loss.
  • Produces a lower calorie intake, which assists with weight loss.

A so-called “beige plate,” on the other hand, refers to a plate full of refined and overly-processed carbohydrates. Think of the lifeless colors of pasta, french fries, muffins, white rice, and white bread.

Benefits of whole grainsNot All Carbs are Created Equal

Both the “rainbow plate” and the “beige plate” are full of carbohydrates. But, the carbohydrates on both plates differ substantially in the benefits that they offer to your body.

The carbohydrates in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, include fiber and nutrients. Fiber, vitamins, and minerals essential for health are stripped away from refined carbohydrates. (“Enriched” flours try to artificially replace nutrients lost in the refining process.)

As you can see in the image below, “white” grains are missing the bran and the germ of the whole grain along with fiber and nutrients.

Refined carbohydratesThe Negative Effects of a Beige Plate

There are negative effects tied to a diet full of refined carbohydrates that lack fiber. Healthline describes some of the possible effects of consuming too many refined carbohydrates, including:

  • Increases overeating and risk of obesity.
  • Increased risk of heart disease.
  • Raises risk of diabetes.

Also, a diet lacking in colorful fruits and vegetables can lead to “oxidative stress,” an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. And, beige foods do very little to help you recover from a workout.

You can think of free radicals as waste products left over after the body’s many chemical reactions. They are unstable atoms that damage cells. 

Oxidative stress is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease and cancer.  Many phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants, meaning they help neutralize free radicals.

Eat the Rainbow

Look to the rainbow to combat chronic disease, obesity, and cancer! The American Cancer Society recommends eating 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables every day. To maximize your health, eat one cup of food from each of the colors of the rainbow


Phytonutrients in red food

Red Foods Rich in Phytonutrients: strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, red onions, pomegranates, persimmons, papaya, red cabbage, grapefruit.

Which Phytonutrients

  • Carotenoids (such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin). 
  • Polyphenols (such as ellagic acid and resveratrol).
  • Flavonoids (such as quercetin, hesperidin, anthocyanidin).

ORANGES & YELLOWSPhytonutrients in orange food

Orange & Yellow Foods Rich in Phytonutrients: carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, oranges, bananas, pineapple, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, winter squash (butternut, acorn), peaches, cantaloupe, corn, ginger, turmeric.

Which Phytonutrients:

  • Carotenoids (such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin) 
  • Limonoids
  • Flavonoids (such as hesperidin)

GREENSPhytonutrients in green food

Green Foods Rich in Phytonutrients: spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, collard greens, green tea, soy, arugula, chard, green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil)

Which Phytonutrients:

  • Carotenoids (such as lutein and zeaxanthin) 
  • Indoles
  • Glucosinolates (sulforaphane) 
  • Polyphenols (such as EGCG)
  • Isoflavones

BLUES & PURPLESPhytonutrients in purple food

Blue & Purple Foods Rich in Phytonutrients: açaí berries, blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, Concord grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, purple cabbage

Which Phytonutrients:

  • Polyphenols (such as ellagic acid and resveratrol) 
  • Catechins
  • Flavonoids (such as anthocyanin and phenolic acids)

WHITES & BROWNSPhytonutrients in white/brown food

White & Brown Foods Rich in Phytonutrients: onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms, cocoa, coconut, rutabaga, cinnamon, flax seeds 

Which Phytonutrients:

  • Flavonoids (such as anthocyanins, quercetin, and procyanidin) 
  • Catechins
  • Allylic sulfides 
  • Polyphenols (such as EGCG)
  • Indoles
  • Glucosinolates (sulforaphane) 

This phytonutrients chart provides information on just a few prevalent phytonutrients, their associated colors, and the functions that they provide in the body:

Phytonutrients Functions
Allylic sulfides
  • Antitumor activities
  • Detoxes liver enzymes
  • Lowers cholesterol
Red, Purple, Blue
  • Antimicrobial
  • Neutralizes free radicals
  • May help with memory
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green
  • Vital for vision, growth, and development. 
  • Some anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits
  • Neutralizes free radicals and repairs DNA
Blue, Purple, White
  • Neutralizes free radicals and help prevent cell damage
Ellagic Acid
Red, Purple, Blue
  • Anticancer
  • Neutralizes free radicals
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Cholesterol control
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, White
  • Anticancer
  • May help fight obesity and diabetes
  • Cardiovascular protection
  • Nervous system support
Green, White
  • Anticancer
  • Antioxidant cell protection
Green, White
  • Anticancer
  • Neutralizes free radicals
  • Anticancer
  • Blocks estrogen while produces estrogen-like effects (protects bones, lowers LDL cholesterol)
Orange, Yellow
  • Detoxes liver enzymes
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, White
  • May improve or help treat digestion issues
  • Possible weight management
  • May inhibit diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, and cardiovascular diseases
Red, Blue, Purple
  • Reduces tumor growth
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Supports cognitive health

Take Action 

If you’re not used to eating a “rainbow plate,” begin now by taking small actionable steps toward adding more color every day. Here are some tips from Harvard Health on how to make your diet vibrant every day:

  • Add small servings. Refer to the chart for typical fruit and vegetable serving sizes.
  • Think in twos. Try to eat two colorful servings each in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
  • Snacks count! Have a piece of fruit or grab some sliced raw vegetables to go.
  • When shopping, look at your cart. Fill your cart with colors — and phytonutrients.
  • Make a rainbow plate part of your meal prep. If you plan your meals ahead, adding the rainbow is easy!
  • Look local. Farmers’ markets, co-ops, buying clubs, and community-supported farms are usually great sources of fresh produce. 
  • Frozen produce is OK, too! It is best to eat fresh foods in season, but since seasonal produce may be limited, frozen fruits and vegetables count!
  • The greater the variety, the better.

If you’re having a hard time knowing where to start or how to incorporate a “rainbow plate” into your day, try the LadyBoss® Rainbow Detox! It is a 14-day program that includes a new daily detoxifying shake recipe for each of the colors of the rainbow. 


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