According to the British Heart Foundation, there are around 100,000 hospital admissions each year due to heart attacks. That’s around one every five minutes. Meanwhile The Health Survey for England discovered that 25.9% of adults in England alone, are obese, with another 37.9% overweight but not obese. The UK’s eating habits are getting worse and it is having a negative effect on our health.
It can be hard to stay on the right track though with so many diets, fads and advice available from all corners of the internet and social media. One expert says one thing, while another says something different. A certain food is declared a superfood one minute and barely safe the next. Who do we believe, and what is the easiest way to keep our eating habits healthy?
To achieve any long-lasting healthy eating habits, it’s important to find an easy method that works for you. Fads that encourage us to cut whole food groups out entirely, rarely last long. Eating the rainbow is an easy concept that is useful for adults and children to improve their eating habits. But is it genuinely good for us? The answer is yes, it is.
Eating the rainbow means you digest a variety of fruits and vegetables, not just your favourite few, and there have been several studies to show that different coloured foods offer different benefits to the body. For example, white fruits and vegetables are associated with reducing the risk of stroke, while deep orange items decrease the risk of heart disease. Here are some suggestions to help you add a little more colour to your plate, and a lot more health benefits to your life.
Red foods are likely to contain antioxidants including lycopene (in tomatoes), anthocyanins (red berries, including strawberries) and ellagic acid (strawberries, raspberries, and pomegranate). Lycopene is the element that makes the food red and is thought to help protect against cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Lycopene is more easily absorbed in the body when it’s cooked so the effort of making a fresh tomato sauce to accompany your pasta, is very worthwhile.
We’ve all heard the myth that eating carrots can help you see in the dark, and while that may be stretching the truth a little, orange foods and the beta-carotene and curcuminoids they contain, are good for optimising eye health. Orange fruits and vegetables also boost your immunity and are helpful in promoting healthy skin. Try swapping potatoes for sweet potatoes in some of your meals and scatter some dried apricots or mango on your cereal.
Yellow fruits and veggies contain carotenoids including beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin and it is the beta-carotene that gives them their yellow colour. Plant based foods that are yellow can act as an anti-inflammatory, and aid in eye, skin, brain and heart health. Yellow peppers are delicious in a side dish of Mediterranean vegetables, popped into a casserole, or even better, can be eaten raw in a salad. Meanwhile lemons make for a fabulous homemade salad dressing and bananas are an easy snack for the whole family
We have all been told for a long time now that leafy green vegetables are good for us. That’s because they are full of fibre, vitamins and minerals, but low in calories. Green foods contain compounds like chlorophyll, sulforaphane and glucosinolate which may help prevent against blood vessel damage and certain types of cancer. Broccoli might be the most obvious choice here and is a fantastic option to form part of a healthy diet, but asparagus, sprouts, apples, limes and cucumbers are all great sources too. For a quick hit of greens, add avocado and spinach to your favourite smoothie recipe.
Blue and purple coloured foods contain anthocyanins which give them their colour. Anthocyanins also act as antioxidants and are said to help with inflammation and protect against certain types of cancer. Beetroot may help reduce blood pressure but again, eating a variety of foods within this colour group is important so add some purple lettuce to your next salad and snack on purple grapes and blackberries.
You might have heard that the darker the colour of your fruit or vegetable, the better it is for you. The exception to this rule is plant-based food of the white or beige variety. White or off-white coloured foods are given their colour from anthoxanthins and according to the British Heart Foundation, some studies have suggested that anthoxanthins may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Whether or not this is the case, potatoes alone are a fantastic source of vitamin C and are full of potassium. With the skins on they are a good source of fibre too. Parsnips and mushrooms are also good sources of potassium, which is an important mineral for normal heart and muscle function. Make your mashed potatoes healthier by adding some cooked celeriac or Jerusalem artichoke.
Variety is good for you
Unfortunately, despite the brave claims of some nutritional experts, the fact of the matter is that more research is needed into the specific health benefits of each coloured fruit and vegetable. Only then will we be able to fully ascertain its benefits and its impact on each part of the body or specific ailment. HOWEVER, all nutritionists, doctors, scientists, charities, and foundations agree that adding a variety of coloured fruits and vegetables to your diet, is a great place to start your healthy eating journey. It’s so tempting to stick with the same few fruits and veggies that we know we like, but by mixing it up and adding even more variety, we will look after our minds and bodies for longer.
A great place to start is to challenge yourself to eat 30 different varieties of fruit and veg in a week. It’s easier than you might think so keep a list to make sure you stay on track, and happy healthy eating!