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Eat Healthy With a Rainbow of Foods Each Day

Updated on September 17, 2020
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Linda seeks to provide thoughtful, well-reasoned, and sensible guidelines to support and promote physical and emotional well-being.


It Began In a Carpool

In 1996 James Joseph and Ronald Prior were working for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Human Nutrition Research Center. And they carpooled together.

If you have ever shared a ride with co-workers, you probably know that conversation to and from the workplace typically centers on current news, the weather, whatever sport is in season, pets, or children. (Hot-button topics like religion and politics are best saved for Facebook).

But Drs. Joseph and Prior talked about work. One lively discussion centered on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity) test, a test that measures antioxidant activity in body tissues.

That discussion gave birth to an idea; Dr. Prior began to study antioxidant levels not in the body but in the foods we eat. In a nutshell (no pun intended), this is what he found:

It turns out the fruits and vegetables with the highest ORAC levels were the most colorful.

— Ronald Prior, PhD, chemist and nutritionist

What is an Antioxidant?

That’s a good question. First break the word down into two parts; anti means “against” and then there is “oxidant” You might be thinking “oxygen, that’s good.” But consider the word “oxidation.” Oxidation is what happens when sliced apples turn brown, aluminum screen doors become pitted, and car parts rust.

Anti (against) oxidants (rusting) help keep you from getting “rusty.” In other words, they can slow the aging process. Think of them as first-responders, rushing in, sacrificing themselves to save your healthy tissue cells from damage.

So, What Does This All Mean?

Place orange-colored foods on your plate (apricots, carrots), and you are tapping into the carotenoid, beta-carotene, one of the most powerful antioxidants. A touch of purple (blueberries, eggplant) will give you three more disease-fighting nutrients (ellagitannins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins). Red tomatoes will benefit your heart with lycopene.

The names of these powerhouse nutrition boosters are difficult to pronounce (and understand), but you don’t need to be a chemist to add them to your diet.

A Brief (But Important) Glossary

  • Anthocyanin – a blue-tinted flavonoid that boots memory and promotes healthy aging
  • Carotenoid – a phytonutrient that provides the vivid color to the yellow/orange fruits and vegetables; our body uses these compounds to produce Vitamin A
  • Ellagitannin – an antioxidant found in grapes and berries
  • Flavonoid – a phytonutrient that serves to maintain heart health and support brain function
  • Lutein – a carotenoid that promotes good eye health
  • Phytonutrients – natural, plant-based compounds
  • Proanthocyanidin – another flavonoid that promotes heart health

Plants were here long before us, and they've evolved ways to protect themselves against pathogenic disease and oxidative stress. These same phytonutrients can exert beneficial effects in people too."

— Navindra Seeram, PhD, antioxidant researcher at UCLA



Red-hued fruits and vegetables contain lycopene. Studies indicate that diets rich in in this compound could inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Dietary Sources

  • beets
  • cherries
  • cranberries
  • pomegranates
  • radicchio
  • radishes
  • raspberries
  • red bell peppers
  • red grapes
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes
  • watermelon



Orange and yellow produce contains carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, flavonoids, and Vitamin C. Studies show that these may help protect against age-related eye disease.

Dietary Sources

  • apricots
  • butternut squash
  • cantaloupe
  • corn
  • lemons
  • mangoes
  • nectarines
  • papayas
  • peaches
  • pineapples
  • pumpkin



Green-hued produce is a powerhouse of antioxidants; beta-carotenem lutein, zeaxanthinm indoles, and isothiocyanates. They're hard to say, but easy to add to your daily diet. Several studies show that they can protect against eye ailments and may play a role in keeping the carotid arteries free of plaque.

Dietary Sources

  • asparagus
  • avocado
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • green beans
  • green cabbage
  • leafy greens
  • peas
  • pears
  • zucchini



The antioxidants in blue and purple foods can ease inflammation, benefit motor function, and improve memory, targeting the hippocampus area of the brain.

Dietary Sources

  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • currants
  • eggplant
  • raisins
  • plums
  • purple potatoes



Although white and tan are not colors of the rainbow I would be remiss to ignore the antioxidant-rich foods that are not a part of the prism. Just one or two cups of cauliflower can protect against oxidative stressors.


Dietary Sources

  • bananas
  • cauliflower
  • garlic
  • jicama
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • parships
  • potatoes
  • shallots


Superfood Salad with Blueberry Lemon Vinaigrette


Amy, self-avowed foodie, nutritionist, recipe developer, wife, and busy mom of two is on a mission to create everyday nutritious recipes that taste absolutely DELICIOUS!!! Her superfood salad is indeed packed with vitamins and antioxidants and is as great tasting as it is beautiful.

Chopped Broccoli Salad with Walnuts, Cranberries, and Balsamic


Broccoli salad is a common "guest" at picnics and potlucks, but I'll bet that you've never had one that tasted like this. London combines crisp broccoli with umami- and antioxidant-rich walnuts, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and balsamic.

Triple Berry Smoothy


I've never been a smoothie lover. My daughter buys kale smoothies at a local I-won't-divulge-the-name juice shop. They might be packed with nutrition, but they look dreadful.

Then, there's this triple-berry smoothie by Kelly. It's it beautiful? Now this, I could get used to.

Easy Tex Mex Pasta Salad


This salad would make a great summer-time meal. With the fiber- and protein-rich black beans you don't need meat. This Tex-Mex pasta salad is easy enough to whip up for your family, and pretty enough to serve to company at your next backyard party or potluck.

Sweet and Savory Three-Rice Salad


Ingredients for Salad

  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup cooked wild rice
  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 4 strips bacon, turkey bacon, or vegetarian "bacon", cooked crisp and chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions (white bulb and the green tops)
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Ingredients for Dressing

  • 1/2 cup salad oil
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon white (granulated) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Squeeze the thawed spinach to remove as much water as possible. Place spinach in a large mixing bowl and "fluff up" with fork or fingers to loosen so that it will be easier to mix with the remaining ingredients.
  2. Add cooked the rices, bacon, onion, dried cranberries and almonds in mixing bowl with spinach. Toss gently to combine.
  3. Place all salad dressing ingredients in a jar with screw-on lid. Shake to combine. Pour dressing over salad and toss again to coat evenly with dressing.
  4. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2017 Linda Lum


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