We're always hearing that we should "eat the rainbow", but what does that mean and why is a colourful diet so highly recommended by dietitians all over the world? Not only are they appealing, the phytochemicals that give foods their colour are packed with nutritional benefits. Dietitian Sally Shi-Po Poon breaks food down into five colour-coded categories below:

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Red foods

Why it's good for you: Lycopene is the predominant pigment in red fruits and vegetables. It's a powerful antioxidant that can help prevent prostate cancer and heart diseases. Lycopene is better absorbed when it is cooked with some oil, such as tomato sauce with olive oil. 

Astaxanthin—which is found in the red pigment of marine animals—has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Its antioxidant activity was found to be 10 times more than zeaxanthin, lutein and beta-carotene.   

What foods to eat: Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, red cabbage, papaya, salmon, prawns, crab, red trout, lobster.  

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Orange and yellow foods

Why it's good for you: Beta-carotene is found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. When consumed, beta-carotene convert to vitamin A, which is needed for good vision, a strong immune system, and healthy skin.

Food processing and cooking help release beta-carotene from the food matrix, making it easier to absorb. Its absorption requires the presence of fat, such as canola oil, almonds, flaxseed or pumpkin seeds.

What foods to eat: Carrots, cantaloupe melon, mangoes, orange peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squash, collards.

See also: 5 Dietitian-Approved Festival Foods For The Holiday Season

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Green foods

Why it's good for you: Green cruciferous vegetables are good sources of sulforaphane and glucosinolate, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These vegetables also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect eyes from sun damage and reduce the risk of cataracts.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are better absorbed with fats, so be sure to eat the vegetables with some avocado, cheese, walnuts, sunflower seeds or olive oil.

Green vegetables are also excellent sources of folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy.

What foods to eat: Broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, watercress, arugula, cabbage, mustard greens.

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Purple foods

Why it's good for you: Anthocyanins are pigments that appear purple or blue. The darker the colour, the higher the concentration of anthocyanins.

Boiling vegetables can increase the loss of water-soluble nutrients such as anthocyanins and vitamin C, therefore baking and steaming are preferred as they can retain more of the nutrients, as well as the flavour and colour.

What foods to eat: Eggplant (especially the skin), blueberries, blackberries, prunes, plums, black rice, purple sweet potato, and purple cauliflower. 

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White foods

Why it's good for you: Anthoxanthins are white or colourless pigments, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Garlic contains allicin, which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and heart-protective properties.

Allicin is produced when fresh garlic is finely chopped or crushed, which like other herbs and spices provides an alternative to salt when cooking. Eating less salt is important for preventing high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.

What foods to eat: Bananas, cauliflower, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, Jerusalem artichoke and turnips.

Including a variety of colourful foods in your diet can equal better overall health, so start planning some colourful recipes for this Christmas to make it a healthier one. We wish you and your family happiness, health and prosperity this holiday season and in the coming New Year.

See also: 10 Ways To Eat Healthy When Dining Out

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