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Unique Benefits of Eating the Rainbow

Updated: May 14

Written by Megan Lee, Registered Dietitian, March 2024

I am sure you have all been subject to well-wishing parents or grandparents telling you to eat more fruits and vegetables in order to stay strong and healthy. As a dietitian, I can’t fault their intentions. Fruits and vegetables not only provide colour and appeal to an otherwise lacklustre plate of food, they also provide much needed fibre, vitamins and energy.

  • Fibre promotes the development and maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome, regularity in stool patterns and blood sugar or energy control.

  • It is well known that certain colours of fruit and vegetables provide certain vitamins.

    • For example, dark green leafy vegetables provide a punch of vitamin K, while orange fruits and vegetables supply vitamin A.

    • Interestingly, the pigments that give fruit and vegetables their vibrant colours are in fact also bioactive compounds that offer unique health benefits that cannot be provided by the other colour groups. This finding has pointed to the variety of fruit and vegetables being as important as the number of servings you eat. Striving to hit your five-a-day? Try getting in your five colour groups a day too!

  1. Reds

Red fruit and vegetables like tomato, strawberries, watermelon and red peppers contain the carotenoids lycopene and beta-cryptoxanthin. It has been found that lycopene reduces one’s risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and various cancers, such as breast, cervical, lung and throat cancer. Beta-cryptoxanthin offers, in addition, reduced risk for bladder cancer and hip fractures.

  1. Orange/Yellow

Orange and yellow varieties like carrots, pumpkin, mango and cantaloupe contain the carotenoids beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids uniquely increase HDL-cholesterol (the type of cholesterol that is protective against heart disease), as well as reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, fracture risk and endometrial cancer.

The pale yellow flavonols found in bananas, onion, garlic, apples, gooseberries, cauliflower and turnips have been found to uniquely improve exercise performance.

  1. White

White fruits and vegetables don’t simply lack pigment. They in fact contain pigments called flavones, which can be found in white potato, dragon fruit, white nectarines, cabbage, and the flesh of blueberries. Flavones specifically reduce the risk of liver cancer, while also reducing the risk of smoking-related cancers.

  1. Blue/Purple

The bluey-purple kinds like red cabbage, blueberries, eggplant, plums and black grapes contain tannins, betacyanins and betaxanthins. These pigments have multiple unique benefits, such as reducing the risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, while also improving inflammatory markers.

  1. Green

Green fruits and vegetables contain chlorophyll, which uniquely improves seasonal allergic rhinitis.

In conclusion

  • The unique benefits of different bioactive pigments really solidify that a variety of fruit and vegetable intake can aid in enhancing overall health.

  • Hopefully this new insight will encourage you to get more creative with your meals to include a wider variety of colour.


Blumfield, M.; Mayr, H.; De Vlieger, N.; Abbott, K.; Starck, C.; Fayet-Moore, F.; Marshall, S. Should We ‘Eat a Rainbow’? An Umbrella Review of the Health Effects of Colorful Bioactive Pigments in Fruits and Vegetables. Molecules 2022, 27, 4061.

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