Eat the Rainbow
The foods we eat provide us with nutrients in many forms. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbohydrates & lipids are all ‘essential to life’ materials our bodies use to function & maintain optimal health. A variety of colourful plant sources in our diet provide the many phytochemicals important in supporting the health of skin, eyes, nerves, hair, bone, muscle tone, tissue repair, energy production, detoxification, immune, brain & digestive function. Through food processing, the use of GMO & chemical additives, over-farming land & cooking methods the nutrient content in foods is often depleted & this leads to nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to ill-health. We can obtain more healthful content by consuming organic produce & eating seasonally to ensure the produce is ripe to eat & therefore richer in natural nutrients & enzymes. Many vegetables & fruits provide the most potent nutrients in their skin & eating organic means not having to discard the valuable peel/skin that has otherwise been subjected to pesticides & numerous chemicals, which when ingested play havoc with our hormones & digestive function & put extra burden on our liver.
By eating more plants in our diet we can use their protective properties to reduce the risk of disease. Diets high in vegetables, fruit & legumes have been found to have lower incidence of heart disease, certain cancers & diabetes. Phytochemicals offer antioxidant protection in fighting free-radicals, which are important when it comes to ageing. They’re a fantastic source of natural digestive enzymes, prebiotics & probiotics, all essential in maintaining a healthy gut function, encouraging bowel movements & also provide necessary cofactors which are essential in optimally functioning detoxification pathways. The fibre & water content help keep us fuller for longer so if you’re looking to lose weight definitely increase the amount of vegetables you consume.
As you can see there are more reasons to eat vegetables & fruit than not, but there is much confusion over how many to eat & how to get them into the diet. Traditionally, guidelines have advised us to eat a combined 5 portions a day. A portion is roughly the size of an clenched fist. However recently it became clear that this figure was plucked out of the air & we should really be aiming for 10 portions & over. Admittedly this is easier said than done, especially if you’re starting from nothing or the lower end of that figure. Practically, you can get a really good amount into a veg-based smoothie, salads, soups, stews, vegetable kebabs, stir-frys & these are all methods I used to start with & now eat regularly. You should really aim for 3 portions to be leafy veg & you can do this with spinach (or kale) in a smoothie, salad leaves, a side plate at dinner with kale (or spinach). The rest should be made up from a variety of colours (see below) in order to obtain the wide range of benefits. Add berries or banana to porridge for breakfast, eat an apple (with nutbutter!) for a snack & throw one piece of fruit into your smoothie. Another good way is to use ‘veggie swaps' & I’ve put a few below, along with a short list of tips & an ‘eat the rainbow’ list which is not comprehensive but it will allow you to see the variety & use for reference. Hopefully these ideas will get you started & inspire you to include more vegetables & fruit in your diet - count colours not calories!
A portion size of veg is roughly the size of a clenched fist
If you’ve suffered with digestive issues in the past, slowly increase your intake, so aim for one extra portion initially to test your tolerance & build up from there
Using different cooking techniques like roasting, sauteing & steaming, the vegetables keep their vibrant colours & more of their beneficial properties than when boiling
Allocate a specific 'meat free day' & experiment with plant-based vegetarian cooking. 'Meat Free Mondays' are popular on social media so search for the # for inspiration
Ratatouille & Caponata are both veggie packed dishes that can be cooked in bulk & are great dishes to fill you up on 'meat free' days
Stir-frys are an excellent way of packing in loads of different colours & types of veg. Try to resist buying the ready-made packets but if you’re short on time & skill initially they’re better than nothing
Stir peas, chopped spinach, broad beans into quinoa/rice dishes. When cooking stews, stir spinach, kale or cabbage leaves in at the end
Soups & stews can be batch cooked & frozen which means you’ve always got a nutritious meal ready for a day when you have less time & you can further enhance the medicinal properties by adding herbs & spices
If making eggs on toast, add a combination of tomatoes, spinach, avocado, mushrooms
Home-made tomato sauce is super easy & if blitzing smooth add peppers & carrots to increase your hidden veg portions - perfect to sneak more veg into kids meals!
Add beetroot or sweet potato to a traditional hummus recipe
Guacamole is a really quick, easy & super tasty side dish. Can be enjoyed with veggie sticks to get even more vegetable quantity in
Spiralised courgette instead of wheat pasta
Use a lettuce or cabbage leaf rather than a wheat wrap
Make chicory boats instead of a bread sandwich (picture below)
Use portobello mushrooms instead of bread for breakfast (picture below)
Incorporate carrot, courgette, beetroot, sweet potato into cake & brownie recipes
Use banana to make pancakes, bread, muffins
Banana ‘nice cream’ instead of traditional dairy ice cream
Incorporating more vegetables into your meals doesn’t have to be time consuming, bland or boring – here are some examples of my vibrant colourful plates I feature on my Instagram page (@nutritiongirl_manchester) to hopefully inspire you…
EAT THE RAINBOW LIST
RED – tomatoes, red pepper, radish, red cabbage, red onion, red apples, strawberries, cranberries, cherries, pomegranate, raspberries
ORANGE – sweet potato, squash, orange pepper, carrots, oranges, clementine, papaya, satsumas, peaches, nectarine, mango, melon, apricots, turmeric
YELLOW – yellow pepper, melon, pineapple, lemons, bananas, grapefruit (can be red too!)
GREEN – broccoli, spinach, kale, asparagus, cabbage, sprouts, pak choy, cucumber, watercress, salad leaves, kohlrabi, leek, celery, courgette, chiccory, avocado, green apples, pears, peas, kiwi, herbs
PURPLE – beetroot, aubergine, purple sweet potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, purple kale, figs, blueberries, grapes, plums, blackberries
OTHER – mushrooms, white/yellow onions, shallots, garlic, melon, coconut, ginger, dates
*Please note, this post is not to encourage removing food sources from your current diet but to simply inspire people to include a wider range of beneficial to health plant sources. If you have a current health condition or are on medication & thinking about drastically changing your diet, you should do so safely under the guidance of a qualified nutrition professional or seek advice from your medical practitioner first.