We wanted to learn more about the influence colour has on our meal choices, so we asked Laura Tilt, a registered dietitian and health writer, to delve deeper into what it means to “eat the rainbow”. We were also curious to find out what foods people would choose based solely on their colour so we’ve conducted a little experiment that you can view here. And if you’re actively trying to eat a diet full of colour, you might be pleased to know that you’re part of the six in ten Brits who are consciously eating more colour, as uncovered by our latest survey of the average British plate.
Laura also explains what a balanced diet looks like and gives a few tips on how to make sure we eat enough fruit and veg to get all the nutrients we need.
Why is it important to have multiple food colours on our plate and “eat the rainbow”?
When we talk about “eating the rainbow”, we mean eating lots of colourful fruits and vegetables. This is because eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables of different colours provides the widest variety of vitamins and minerals , which help to keep us healthy.
Foods of different colours contain different mixes of nutrients – but no one food (or even a few foods) can provide all the vitamins and minerals we need. This means if we eat the same foods all the time, we’ll only be getting a limited number of nutrients.
Eating a wide variety of foods helps to ensure we are getting the full range of nutrients that we need to stay healthy.
How do our senses affect our perception of food?
When it comes to how we perceive food, smell and sight are probably the most influential factors. You’ve probably experienced food seeming bland or tasteless when you have a cold. That’s because smell is closely linked with taste, and can enhance the flavour of food.
The colour of food also influences our perception of how that food is going to taste. If we see a red drink, we expect it to taste like strawberry or cherry. And if it doesn’t, that can be quite confusing and off-putting.
Equally, colour can also help us attach a taste to an otherwise flavourless food. Some studies have shown for example, that if a flavourless jelly is coloured yellow, participants actually think it tastes like lemon.
Colour typically increases our perception of flavour, especially bright, vibrant colour, so eating a colourful plate is one way to have a very flavoursome experience!
There are people who will not eat a certain food because of the way it looks. Why does that happen and how can you overcome it?
We all have food aversions, and they are highly personal! Sometimes they come from childhood, and sometimes from a bad experience with the food – perhaps a food made you sick at some point.
As long as you have a varied diet, you don’t need to worry about avoiding one or two individual foods. If you really want to include a food you don’t like because of the way it looks, you could try disguising it, or cooking it in a different way.
You could try putting broccoli in a soup instead of eating it as a whole, adding veggies in a sauce, or roasting them instead of eating raw or steamed. Getting used to food we don’t like could be a matter of exposure, so try small amounts over and over again.
Let’s “break down” the rainbow. Why are foods in the colours of the rainbow good for us?
Red foods (tomatoes, red peppers, strawberries, rhubarb, cherries, red grapes, raspberries and red apples) contain various natural compounds that have potential links with our health.
Most orange coloured foods contain beta-carotene, which is then converted into vitamin A in the body, a vitamin that helps keep skin and eyes healthy. So ramp up your intake of carrots, butternut squash, apricots, papaya, peaches, yellow peppers, nectarines, pumpkin and sweet potato.
Green fruits and veggies are also highly nutritious, and include: peas, spinach, asparagus, green beans, kale, leafy greens, leeks, cucumber, green apples and broccoli.
Blue and purple coloured foods are a source of anthocyanins, natural pigments which are great to include in your diet. Great purple coloured foods include: aubergines, blackberries, blackcurrants, purple grapes, red cabbage, plums, beetroot, pinto beans.
White coloured foods whilst not bright, also contain helpful nutrients, including a wide range of vitamins. Great white coloured veg and fruit include celeriac, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, turnips, white peaches, cannellini beans.
They may not form part of the rainbow, but beige coloured foods are also important. They are typically starchy foods that give us energy – vital for fuelling our brains and muscles! Eating wholegrain, starchy foods also provide us with fibre, which we all should be eating more of. Some great brown and beige foods include oats, wholegrain bread, rye bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, jacket potatoes, muesli, chickpeas and beans.
What does a balanced meal look like?
We need to think about balance in our diet overall, rather than in a single plate. The EatWell plate is a helpful guide, and describes what we should aim for from each food group.
- Aim for at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, choosing wholegrain versions where possible.
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks), choosing lower fat and lower sugar options.
- Eat some beans, pulses, chicken, eggs, and other proteins – a couple of servings a day is about right.
- Try to include 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily, like salmon or mackerel.
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads (like rapeseed oil) and eat in small amounts.
- Keep foods high in fat, salt or sugar as occasional treats.
How can you follow a balanced, colourful diet all year round?
Eating with the seasons can help your diet stay varied and colourful, as seasonal food will change throughout the year – in the summer, we have lots of tomatoes and courgettes available, whilst in the winter root veggies like parsnips and butternut squash are plentiful.
However, seasonal changes also mean some fruits and vegetables can’t be grown during the winter – peas for example are harvested between May and October. This means that winter is an ideal time to take advantage of frozen vegetables and frozen fruit. Freezing is a great way of preserving fruits and veggies when they are in season, which means you can eat them all year round, putting more colour and variety on your plate.
Find out more about our campaign where we looked at what colours we can find on the average British plate, and how colours influence the food choices we make!