"Eat the rainbow" - it's a catchphrase we've all heard at one point or another, but what does it mean, exactly? Sorry, Skittles lovers, but we're not talking about colorful, sugar-coated candies here; this catchphrase is all about healthy choices. Vowing to "eat the rainbow" means choosing to fill your plate at mealtimes with a variety of fruits and veggies of all different colors. Everyone knows that eating fruits and vegetables is crucial to any healthy diet, but what you might not know is that different colors of fruits and veggies come with different vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and more that make each color of produce unique. Hence, the importance of "eating the rainbow." 

strawberries, lemon, cheese, tomato, pepper
Josi Miller

Now, you might be thinking, "Lexi, eating the rainbow sounds like a great idea and all, but how practical is it? Does it really impact your health?" Well, I'm here to tell you that, #1. Yes, it absolutely can have a positive impact on your health, and #2. It's more realistic to achieve than you might think!  In honor of National Nutrition Month in March, I spent the month challenging myself to eat the rainbow as part of the UKColorMyPlate challenge offered through the University of Kentucky's Dining Services. As part of the challenge, I had to document myself (through the power of social media) choosing at least one fruit or vegetable daily that matched that week's theme. Read on to see what the color theme of each week was, what consuming these colors of fruits and veggies can do for your body (in the words of real dietitians!) and, finally, a few words on what choosing to eat the rainbow did for me.

Week One: Red

Week one of my quest to eat the rainbow started off with a classic fruit and veggie color choice: Red. This week's color challenge gave me no trouble at all, with a couple of my go-to choices being red apples with a dollop of peanut butter and the tomato and red pepper-smothered Mexican rice bowl you see below! 

Lexi Shepherd

According to registered dietitian Susan Bowerman, the antioxidant lycopene, which can lessen your risk of developing certain cancers and promotes heart health, is what gives most red fruits and veggies their distinctive color. They also typically contain flavonoids, a type of phytochemical (also known as a phytonutrient) that can reduce inflammation in the body and act as an antioxidant. To top it off, red fruits and veggies are also typically good sources of vitamin C and folate, the latter of which helps your body create red blood cells. 

Week Two: Green

Week two of my journey to eat the rainbow fell on my week at home for spring break. Now, without like a bajillion dining halls/restaurants around to choose from, it was a little more challenging to work in that daily dose of green, but I did my best! My boyfriend and I even tried out the green-themed recipe you see below, chicken and broccoli mac n' cheese (yes, it was delicious; and yes, I'm probably going to write an article about it 😋). 

Lexi Shepherd

The color of green fruits and vegetables comes from chlorophyll, which is a plant pigment you probably remember from learning about photosynthesis in school. In the magazine Today's Dietitian, registered dietitians Susan Bowman and Susan  Kasik-Miller tell us that green veggies, in particular, are great sources of vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, cancer-fighting phytochemicals, and more. While vitamin K plays a key role in blood clotting, potassium works to regulate both your blood pressure and the flow of fluids and minerals in your cells. With so many health benefits to offer, green veggies definitely deserve a spot on your plate. 

Week Three: Orange & Yellow

Back from spring break, I was ready to tackle week three of the UKColorMyPlate challenge by digging into some orange and yellow food for the week. While my dining hall did have tons of veggie choices, very few of them were orange or yellow.  Thus, I mostly stuck with orange and yellow fruits for the week, though I did sneak some carrots and yellow squash in, too!

Lexi Shepherd

Orange foods, in particular, gain their distinctive color from the presence of carotenoids, says registered dietitian Susan Bowerman. These carotenoids can be converted into vitamin A, which is the nutrient folks typically associate with good eyesight.  However, vitamin A helps out more than just your eyes - it plays an important role in the health of your immune system, skin, and bones. Orange and yellow fruits and veggies are also typically high in the classic vitamin C, as well as phytochemicals that fight inflammation and regulate blood sugar. 

Week Four: Purple & Blue

Of all the weeks of the challenge, week four was the one I was most worried about. I mean, really - blue and purple foods in general typically come few and far between, let alone limiting them to my "fruit and veggie" category. However, this actually ended up being one of my favorite weeks of the challenge, because it pushed me to think outside the box! One perfect example is the crunchy purple cabbage you can see in my Freshii Buddha Satay bowl below (it also contains rice noodles, YUM!). 

Lexi Shepherd

According to registered dietitian Susan Bowerman, blue and purple foods tend to get their dark color from antioxidants called anthocyanins, which increase in concentration the darker a blue or purple food is and help support a healthy heart. Of all the blue and purple foods, the simple blueberry might reign supreme . . . In the words of dietitian Susan Kasik-Miller, not only do blueberries have "the highest antioxidant activity of all foods," they're also great sources of fiber, a number of vitamins and minerals, and play a role in the health of your heart and mind. As if that weren't already enough, blueberries can even help fend off cancer and diabetes. A little stumped on ways to work blue and purple foods into your diet? Give blueberries, purple cabbage, blackberries, plums, or even prunes (gasp!) a try!

My Thoughts on "Eating the Rainbow"

Personally, I really enjoyed my quest to eat the rainbow! While having access to buffet-style dining halls definitely made the challenge easier, with a little conscious planning, it's 100% possible to eat a variety of colored fruits and veggies at home. Even if you're already a "healthy eater," vowing to eat the rainbow really pushes you to be conscious that you're keeping your healthy choices varied, which helps you consume the max amount of nutrients you need.

During this month-long challenge, I really did notice a change in the way I felt. This wasn't just a physical difference, but also a mental difference - succeeding at eating the rainbow made me feel good about myself and the work I was putting into maintaining a healthy diet! PLUS, I managed to avoid getting any of the colds that plagued several people I knew in March, so clearly eating the rainbow was doing something right for me. 😉 After completing the UKColorMyPlate challenge, I'm definitely going to keep focusing on eating the rainbow as a part of my diet, and I hope you'll give it a try, too! As the saying goes, "Put good in, get good out."