Eating a Rainbow, Why Color in Your Fruit & Vegetables Matters

You’ve probably heard that you should eat the colors of the rainbow, meaning you should eat a lot of colorful fruit and colorful vegetables. In fact, the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines ( specifically recommend this, as do the updated school nutrition guidelines. The benefits of colorful eating is that it provides a variety of phytonutrients, which offer health benefits beyond the typical vitamins and minerals most of us know about.

According to, phytonutrients are a broad term for a variety of compounds found in produce that includes polyphenols and antioxidants. Phytonutrients provide a variety of health benefits including cancer prevention, and may enhance the absorption and benefits of other vitamins. To help you understand which colors indicate the presence of certain phytonutrients, I’ve listed some common ones below.


Red Produce:

Tomatoes, watermelon, red peppers and pink grapefruit contain a carotenoid called lycopene. Lycopene may help prevent cancer, especially prostrate cancer. Interestingly, the absorption of lycopene actually increases when heated so there are added benefits to cooked tomato products over fresh in this case.


Blue Produce:

Fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, blackberries, plums, prunes, black raspberries and eggplant contain anthocyanosides, which play a role in blood clot formation, support healthy blood pressure and may help to prevent cancer.  Interesting, blueberries are considered a super fruit due to having one of the highest antioxidant contents of fruit and may help keep your brain healthy as you age. Red produce, such as red onions, radishes, red raspberries, strawberries and cranberries also contain anthocyanosides.


Yellow, Orange and Dark Green Produce:

Pumpkins, apricots, cantaloupe, spinach, broccoli, peppers and kale provide carotenoids such as beta-carotene, an antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A and important for healthy eyesight. Carotenoids are phytonutrients that appear to help prevent cataracts, reduce inflammation, help regulate blood sugar, improve immune function and may help prevent some types of cancer. In one study presented on (Nov. 1, 2016) a carotenoid called beta-cryptoxanthin may reduce the risk of nicotine-induced lung cancer. It’s important to know that very low-fat diets reduce carotenoid absorption so be sure to eat some fat with these fruits and vegetables.


White produce:

Contrary to popular belief, even white produce provide important phytonutrients. Garlic, onions, shallots and chives, called allium vegetables, contain organosulfur compounds that may help prevent cancer and reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Keep in mind that many nutrients have not even been discovered yet, so don’t avoid this important produce color due to old nutrition myths.


Here are a few more important phytonutrients in produce:

  • Resveratrol is found in red wine, peanuts and grapes. This phytonutrient helps reduce inflammation, improve heart and lung health, and may help prevent cancer.
  • Indoles and isothiocyanates are found in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy cabbage, rutabaga and turnips. According to the National Cancer institute these phytonutrients may help inactivate carcinogens and may reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases by protecting your DNA from damage. They also have natural antiviral and antibacterial properties.


Now that you’ve learned some good phytonutrient information, why not try this great recipe containing many colors of the rainbow?


Chickpea Salad

(adapted from on Pinterest)


1 fresh lemon

1 avocado, diced

1 (16 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

¼ cup sliced red onion

2 cups heritage grape tomatoes, sliced*

2 cups diced cucumber

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

¾ cup diced green bell pepper



1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

½ tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. sugar

Salt and pepper, to taste


Using the palm of your hand, very firmly roll the lemon on the countertop loosening the juice; cut the lemon in half. In a large bowl, squeeze the lemon over the avocado cubes; stir to coat. Add remaining salad ingredients and gently stir to combine. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the salad and gently stir to combine. Chill for at least one hour to “marry” the flavors before serving.


*I prefer the heritage grape tomatoes for the variety of colors and unique flavors, however any grape or cherry tomato can be used in this recipe.



The opinions shared in this article are those of the contributor and not Total Gym Direct.

Jennifer M. Wood, MS, RD

Jennifer M Wood, MS, RDN is registered dietitian nutritionist and successful food and nutrition consultant in Southeastern Minnesota. As the founder of a nation-wide gourmet food company, Wood wrote Jenny’s Country Kitchen…recipes for making homemade a little easier! (2003), which is a timeless collection of make-ahead, freeze-ahead and pantry-stocking recipes and time saving tips to help busy families put nutritious food on table. Wood graduated with a pre-med bachelors degree in nutritional science in 2001, completed her dietetic internship in 2007 and went on to complete a master’s degree in food and nutrition in 2011.

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