Healthy Eating Basics: Eat the Rainbow

What does eating healthy actually mean? Experts might disagree if one should eat red meat or no red meat, oils (such as olive oil or peanut oil or grapeseed oil) or no oils, grains or no grains and even if one should take nutritional supplements such as calcium or  magnesium. But there is one thing all experts agree upon and that is that eating vegetables is ALWAYS a good idea. There are so many nutrients and phytochemicals (the good chemicals!) in vegetables that you really can't go wrong by your choices. But eating too much of one thing doesn't really serve you either. It's actually very simple to get a huge health benefit from from vegetables...just eat the rainbow! That's right. Pick something red, purple and green today and something yellow, orange and green tomorrow. For optimal health, try to eat the entire rainbow each and every day.

Here are some tips from a blog written by Rebecca Katz who has written wonderful cookbooks filled with information about the benefits of eating vegetables. Check out the second edition of her well known book "The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen". We really also like her book "Clean Soups". Yum! You can find both of these publications at the center if you'd like to take a look at them. Or, check out Rebecca at

Rebecca writes: A plate full of color means you are loading up on the important phytonutrients that can do better than anything else on the planet to balance your immune system, reduce inflammation, and make you FEEL better. My advice? Go for it. 

For over a decade, I’ve been preaching that you need to love your vegetables, not just endure them. Veggies, and the fantastic array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals they contain, are crucial for brain health, longevity, and cancer prevention, among their many good deeds. Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower) contain B vitamins that are critical for methylation, for example, a process through which our brains repair themselves. We all need brain repair!

Learning to embrace vegetables comes down to flavor and creativity.

That’s my way of saying that the odds are you grew up on flavorless, drab vegetables that had been boiled within an inch of their lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Vegetables can have WONDERFUL flavor, especially when they’re sautéed or roasted.

Many veggies are naturally sweet like carrots or savory like broccoli. Those that tend to have more of a bite can have their bitterness balanced out by creative pairing with other vegetables or fruits. You’ll also notice that nearly all my vegetable dishes have either herbs or spices (or both), as science is showing more and more that these power-packed flavor carriers also carry great brain-boosting properties. Start cooking these recipes and I promise that you and your family will never look at veggies the same way again.

I can (and will) give you a million reasons why you should eat vegetables, but here’s the only one that really matters: they taste great.

Veggies  that are steamed, roasted, baked, and infused with luscious herbs, spices, and oils—will make you sigh with pleasure. This explosion of flavor is more than a luxury; it’s a necessity if you’re intent on eating for maximum health. There’s no way to stay at your peak, brimming with vitality and energy, unless veggies are a huge component of your diet. So many of the antioxidants and phytochemicals critical to both short-term and long-term well-being come from vegetables, and it’s key that you stay constantly connected to the source. 

The only way to do that and not get bored is to bring a kaleidoscope of palate-pleasing veggies into your universe. You start by trying the recipes below, and letting the flavors seduce you (and believe me, that’s easy), knowing that I’ve done the heavy lifting, pairing complementary ingredients into nutrient-dense dishes and capitalizing on their synergistic properties. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts in these recipes. 

As one example, sautéing vegetables in olive oil enhances the body’s ability to absorb their nutrients. Similarly, many herbs and spices influence gene expression. That’s a fancy way of saying that they help give your DNA the go-ahead or a stop signal. When paired with vegetables, which deliver phytochemicals with a host of health benefits, herbs and spices act like the station manager at a train terminal, telling the DNA in the switching station which nutrients coming down the track should be sent where and when, and which should be held in the station until further notice.

Veggies also help ward off some of the known effects of the aging process. Take glutathione, a key antioxidant that controls many metabolic functions. Blood levels of glutathione decline as we get older, possibly making us more vulnerable to cancer and other health issues. Fortunately, glutathione is abundant in vegetables such as asparagus, avocados, broccoli, garlic, spinach—all of which, not coincidentally, you’ll find in these recipes. As a friend of mine says with love, if not grammar, “Hey, I want you should feel good!”

Eat the rainbow!

Have you heard this expression? It means look at your plate like a canvas, and include many jewel-toned vegetables and fruits. The deep color bespeaks nutrient-density, rich antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals do everything from protect our bodies from daily wear and tear to combat cancer. Am I succeeding in convincing you that vegetables are a big deal?

Sample and incorporate the different groups:

The cruciferous set - broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, arugula, wasabi, kale & cousins (varietals), mustard greens, collards
The cabbage crew - red and green cabbage, brussels sprouts
The orange gang - carrots, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, orange sweet bell peppers
The red group - beets, tomatoes, red carrots, 
Summer squashes - pattypan, zucchini, yellow crookneck
Mushrooms - shiitake, oyster, portobello
Every kind of lettuce known to man - and other light greens like fennel, celery
Purple players - eggplant, purple cauliflower, purple potatoes  
Asparagus - a grass!
Beans - string beans, Romano beans, cranberry beans
Alliums - onion, garlic, chives, shallots

Susan Malzone, Nutritional Director, Physicians Weight Loss Centers in Ashburn & Fairfax, VA

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