Color Me Healthy: Fill Your Plate With a Rainbow of Phytonutrients

I remember years ago when I was invited to dinner at someone else’s house, I might or might not be able to eat much of anything. After years of being a vegetarian, then macrobiotic, there was even more I wouldn’t eat; I was becoming more discerning. Something I remember about being a guest was how often I’d see no color on the plate. One particular homemade dinner was chicken breast, cauliflower, mashed potatoes, and iceberg lettuce with roquefort dressing. A whiter shade of pale! Which brings me to some suggestions about coloring outside the lines when it comes to purchasing foods, preparing them and then making your plate glow, all the time, with a rainbow of phytonutrients.

Phyto is the Greek word for plant. Phytonutrients have many beneficial health effects through a number of mechanisms, including hormonal and antioxidant properties. Whole plants and whole plant extracts show synergistic effects in mutiple cellular functions, when compared to purified or concentrated compounds. There are tests that can show the actual antioxidant power of the foods you eat. One of them is the ORAC, and comet assays. These are tools that show what happens to a cell, or doesn’t when you have certain foods on board; i.e. how the cell membrane holds up to antioxidant “bombardment.” Enough chemistry! On to your plate. Start with the color spectrum, since it’s a visual, it makes it easier to remember: Remember ROYGBIV from the rainbow?

double rainbow

Red: lycopenes, capsanthin=tomato, pomegranate, strawberry, walnut. raspberry


Orange/yellow: beta carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin=orange, carrot, cantaloupe, sweet potato, lemon, squash, pepper, tangerine

Green: chlorophyll, lutein=dark green leafys, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts), soy products

White: allicin, quercitin= garlic, onion, shallot, leek, apple

Blue/Purple: anthocyanin, resveratrol= blueberry, elderberry, grape

Oregon berries

So there are some visuals, and the actual skinny on the substances, but what do they do? And why might we be missing out? Colored pigments in plants are not just anti-oxidants, that help protect us from “oxidative stress” or damage to our RNA and DNA in our cells when are running our 24/7 metabolic processes, but are also phytochemicals. These substances in colorful plant foods find their way into body organs for the purpose of specific physiological functions. Those pungent and bitter flavors have virtually medicinal effects. Think of parsley, cilantro, rosemary, darkly colored green leafy vegetables, the “kick” in arugula, the bite of fresh garlic, or onions, and watercress or dandelion greens, or sage. They can literally “switch“ on good genes, and “turn off” bad genes depending on what you’re eating.

Turns out plants—since they are stuck in one place, unlike animals who move around—had to have ways to protect themselves from predators, like insects, and little pests. However, when larger animals like us or ruminants eat them, these chemicals are not as strong, yet activate hormonal effects, and our ability to detoxify harmful chemicals, or excrete metallic compounds as well.

Eating whole foods, rather than concentrated extracts works in your system in multiple ways synergistically. Seems like nature has long known the importance of a network approach!

So EAT BRIGHTLY, and drink colorful things too, like pomegranate juice, cherry and blueberry juice, or make a big green drink for breakfast if you don’t have time to chew all this stuff.

While getting colorful, make sure you get enough. Women need 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day—that's 2.5 cups of vegetables or about 5 servings, and 2 cups of fruit (3-4 servings). Men need about 10 servings of fruit and vegetables, thats 3 cups of vegetables (5-6 servings) and 2 cups of fruit (4 servings). Since you need to eat so many servings, keep them handy, and graze throughout the day. Don’t forget to make sure they are pesticide-free. Berries, and cherries are often the most pesticide-ridden, so get those organic. Be planet friendly and eat locavore when you can, supporting your local farmers and orchardists. You’ll love it, and they’ll love you for it too.

Post some comments—I'd love to hear what your favorite brightly colored foods are. What are you adding to your diet this summer that's fresh and full of phytonutrients?

Dr. Karen J. Krahl, D.C., owner/doctor Synergy Health Group. Visit one of my blogs at, click on "Health News" on the banner at the top of my home page and pick a topic.

This is an article written by one of the incredible members of the SheKnows Community. The SheKnows editorial team has not edited, vetted or endorsed the content of this post. Want to join our amazing community and share your own story? Sign up here.

More from food

by Maryal Miller
| 2 days ago
by Maryal Miller
| 3 days ago
by Corey @ Family Fresh Meals Valley
| 4 days ago
by Justina Huddleston
| 6 days ago
by Justina Huddleston
| 7 days ago
by Justina Huddleston
| 9 days ago