Every so often, my inner hippie takes over and I attempt to go au naturel. I buy apple cider vinegar and plan to make my own salad dressing. I stock up on cayenne pepper and vow to drink shots of spicy lemon water in the morning. Of course, not all my crunchy plans last or even get off the ground. I have deleted my fair share of recipes I found online for making granola.
But I am interested in nutrition, and I have been for years. I especially love food that borders on medicinal: I eat pineapple for the bromelin enzyme thought to soothe achy joints; I add raw ginger to tea to soothe inflammation and more. This list of 33 healthy foods that are more nutritious than anyone realized explains a lot of what inspires me about how healing healthy food can be.
Even with my passion for healthy food, the pace of life makes it hard to stick to whole, natural foods. Last spring I realized my food choices weren’t as healthy as I wanted them to be. My diet lacked color. Whether I was eating bland oatmeal, brown protein bars, or smoothies that resembled beige sludge, I was missing out on the vitality of fresh produce. I was even swapping my love of cooking for grabbing fast food on the run during particularly busy or stressful seasons. I put on weight. Some of my clothes stopped fitting. My skin became redder than usual. I felt more anxious than ever.
This summer, I had to leave New York City for a month while my building was under construction. I embraced the time away as a chance to reset my eating habits. I began spending more time in the produce aisle choosing lots of fruits and veggies. My produce drawer exploded with beautiful shades of green, red, and purple. My fruit basket overflowed with alluring hues of orange, peach, and yellow. (By the way, these are the healthiest fruits for your body.) I slowed down and cooked every meal I could. It dawned on me that I was “eating the rainbow”—a phrase I’d heard from nutritionists and was finally following, almost by accident.
In one week of consuming the most colorful foods as possible, I woke up one morning and thought; “I can’t wait to eat blueberries today.” In two weeks, my skin felt clearer, softer, and smoother. In three weeks I started to actually crave celery. In four weeks, I slid a little easier into some of my favorite dresses. I knew things were getting serious when my stomach leaped with excitement upon waking up and seeing my stash of bananas had ripened overnight. This makes scientific sense. Studies show the color yellow is associated with happiness. I drifted into loony reveries: I caught myself admiring a beet stain on my plate, looking at it longingly like it was a piece of abstract art. Sure—I was enjoying the beet’s rich purple color but there’s more. Beets offers betacyanins, which some studies indicate can prevent cancer. To help make sure my rainbow represented all the colors, I referenced this list of healthiest foods in every color.
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I applaud folks who embrace natural living for environmental reasons, but I admit this tendency of mine is mostly for health and personal fulfillment. I once brought watermelon into work to share with coworkers and blurted out that fruits and veggies inspire my spirituality. I got blank stares and a few giggles. One kind coworker mentioned a sister who loves agriculture and asked me if I liked to garden. I launched into tales from a two-week stay on a farm in California where I happily picked green beans for hours and made homemade salsa with ingredients all from the garden, even down to the cilantro.
The truth is, I get kind of a spiritual high on the physical benefits of ingredients from the earth. My body feels lighter and functions better. To know this comes from nature makes me feel taken care of in a larger sense. For me, eating the rainbow provides lasting satisfaction. A plate balanced with rich, vibrant foods like omega-3-filled pink salmon, roasted, vitamin-rich green asparagus, and loaded-with-carotene sweet potatoes looks incredible and feels amazing to consume. Picking up a chocolate croissant from a bakery might gratify a greedy urge, but the satisfaction is temporary at best. This distinction helps me remember to always choose colorful foods when I can.
These are big motivations for continuing to eat the rainbow including a sense of inner calm that I’m taking the best care possible of myself. That said, here are a few non-traditional reasons to eat the rainbow and how to keep the habit going:
Visual appeal: There’s a primal joy that comes from the simple pleasure of food that colors your plate. Yes, it feels good but it also looks good.
It can be shared: I recently introduced my dad to plantains. He’d never tried the starchy, tropical fruit and was surprised by how much he enjoyed them. It’s always fun to cook for others and eat the rainbow together.
It’s adventurous: Keeping your plate colorful paves the way for a little culinary adventure in your life. There are endless variations of colorful foods to try and ways to prepare them. Sometimes I’ll get used to eating the same things and forget that I actually like eggplant or that you can grill pineapple and it takes great.
Keep your colors stocked: If I’m low on groceries, it can be tempting to order out or grab something on the go. If I make sure I have what I need to eat the rainbow, I’m more likely to stick to my providing my body with the nutrients I need to feel strong.
Prep: I’m more likely to snack on cucumbers if they’re already sliced. The same goes for apple slices or celery sticks. I find that my produce easily goes bad unless I get things ready to eat or prepare beforehand.
Add color to your meals whenever possible: Ordering scrambled eggs? Add some avocado. Making rice and beans? Toss in spinach and red pepper. See if you can substitute fries or chips with a side salad or fruit.