Eat the Rainbow

Brent Bauer, M.D., Mayo Clinic

Only about one in 10 U.S. adults eats the recommended daily servings of fruits (1½-2 cups) and vegetables (2-3 cups). But even if you fill your plate with healthy amounts of fruits and vegetables, then how much you’re consuming is just a part of the puzzle.1 

Also important is the variety of produce you eat. You might have heard experts recommend that individuals should “eat the rainbow” – a reference to the bountiful colors of various fruits and vegetables. Overall, eating a variety of colorful produce is associated with multiple health benefits, including improved cognition and a lower risk of diabetes, cancer, and premature death. Each color, from the bright red of tomatoes to the deep purple of eggplant, provides specific health benefits.2  

What do colorful fruits and vegetables do for you?

Fruits and vegetables contain many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and naturally occurring compounds called phytonutrients. Phytonutrients give produce their color, as well as their distinct aromas and tastes.2,3

Phytonutrients improve health because they have properties that make them – among other things – antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal. They also have properties that help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and provide protection for the brain.2

Different phytonutrients produce different colors. The different colors of fruits and vegetables provide a variety of health benefits:3-5

  1. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables feature carotenoids, including lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, that reduce the risk of heart disease and inflammation, strengthen the immune system, build healthy skin, and support good vision. Yellow fruits and vegetables also contain ample fiber, which supports the gut microbiome and digestion. Good sources of carotenoids include carrots, winter squash, apricots, sweet potatoes, bananas, pineapple, mangoes, pumpkins, peaches, oranges, and yellow and orange peppers.
  2. Red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene – also a carotenoid – which benefits heart health, decreases the risk for prostate and breast cancer, contributes to stroke prevention, increases brain function, and helps protect eyesight. Good sources of lycopene include tomatoes, beets, radishes, cherries, strawberries, red onions, and red peppers.
  3. Green fruits and vegetables offer phytonutrients called indoles and isothiocyanates, which might help prevent cancer. Typically, these foods are high in vitamin K, potassium, and fiber. They also contain folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defects in newborns. Good sources include spinach, arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, avocadoes, kiwis, green tea, asparagus, fresh green herbs, kale, and artichokes.
  4. White and brown fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids and allicin, which have anti-tumor properties. They can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, improve bone strength, and decrease the risk of stomach cancer. Good sources include onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, garlic, and leeks.
  5. Blue and purple fruits and vegetables have an abundance of flavonoids called anthocyanins and antioxidants, which are associated with improved brain health, memory, and mood. They also help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Good sources include blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, figs, purple cabbage, concord grapes, and plums.

Eat your way through the rainbow

Eating the proper amounts of fruit and vegetables is an important aspect of being healthy. But eating a colorful variety of them is the key to unlocking their powerful nutrients. Only eating certain types of fruits or vegetables might prevent you from receiving their full array of health benefits. Studies show that 8 out of 10 U.S. adults need to eat more of every color of phytonutrient, particularly the blue and purple foods. This deficiency is referred to as the “phytonutrient gap.”5 

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to be hard. Here are a few ways to help you include the rainbow at your next snack or meal:4,5

  • Check when fruits and vegetables are in season. This provides you with the freshest produce. It is also usually the most economical because in-season fruits and vegetables are typically at their lowest prices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a seasonal produce guide.
  • Change your usual choices. Research shows produce consumption increases when a variety of fruits and vegetables is offered. For example, rather than purchasing a green pepper, grab a bag of mini multi-colored sweet peppers or try swapping your green pepper for a red, purple, or yellow bell pepper. When making coleslaw, swap green cabbage for purple cabbage.
  • Try a different format. If you don’t like steamed vegetables, then raw vegetables might be more palette-pleasing to you. If you’re short on time, drinking blended fruit and vegetable juices or powders, and fruit- and vegetable-infused waters can help meet your nutritional needs. If you choose juice, then be sure to watch the sugar content, and keep in mind you will be missing out on fiber.
  • Consider add-ins. Slice radishes into potato salad for color and extra crunch. Or add frozen blackberries to your morning cereal or Greek yogurt.
  • Opt for substitutes. Swap French fries for roasted sweet potato fries. Cut a whole sweet potato into shoestring pieces, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 400 F until tender.
  • Spice things up. Herbs, spices, and seasonings can make vegetables more enticing. One study showed that individuals who don’t regularly consume vegetables while dining out were more likely to eat seasoned vegetables than steamed vegetables (without seasoning) when they were offered.6
  • Be a homebody. Eating more meals at home versus at a restaurant is associated with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and healthier diets, such as the plant-based Mediterranean diet. 

Getting fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes be challenging. It’s important to note that the produce aisle isn’t the only place to meet your nutritional needs. Canned, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables count, too.Frozen fruits and vegetables are less likely to contain added sugar, sodium, and other ingredients that are typically added during the canning process. When eating dried fruit, be wary of the sugar content that can quickly add up. 

As long as you’re “eating the rainbow,” you’ll be doing your part to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.

A word from Thorne

Consider adding more greens and other plant-based nutrients to your diet with Thorne’s Daily Greens Plus, which contains spinach, spirulina, mango, watermelon, pomegranate, matcha, Moringa, and a mushroom blend – in addition to other antioxidant nutrients and adaptogen botanicals.


  1. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Adults meeting fruit and vegetable intake recommendations – United States 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Accessed July 14, 2023.]
  2. Blumfield M, Mayr H, De Vlieger N, et al. Should we ‘eat a rainbow’? An umbrella review of the health effects of colorful bioactive pigments in fruits and vegetables. Molecules 2022;27(13):4061.
  3. Eat the rainbow for good health. Mayo Clinic. [Accessed July 14, 2023.]
  4. Follow the rainbow to your health. Mayo Clinic. [Accessed July 14, 2023.]
  5. Minich DM. A review of the science of colorful, plant-based food and practical strategies for “eating the rainbow.” J Nutr Metab 2020; 10.1155/2019/2125070:5631762.
  6. Manero J, Phillips C, Ellison B, et al. Influence of seasoning on vegetable selection, liking, and intent to purchase. Appetite 2017;116:239-245.

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