If you’ve ever felt confused about how much fruit and veg you need to eat, you’re not alone. The latest data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that while nearly one third of Australians eat the recommended number of serves of fruit each day, less than one person out of 25 eat the recommended number of serves of vegetables.
But what is the recommended number of fruit and veggies to eat? It seems many people aren’t sure, and think they should eat five serves of fruit and vegetables each day. But the actual recommendation is to eat five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day.
So nutritionists have come up with a simple idea to help you make sure people eat enough fruit and vegetables each day: ‘eat a rainbow’.
Originally developed as a way to get fussy kids eating more fruit and vegetables but now being used by people of all ages, the ‘eat a rainbow’ idea groups fruit and vegetables into one of six broad colour groups – all you have to do is make sure you eat at least one or two serves from each colour group each day to meet your daily fruit and veg needs.
But wait – there’s more!
We all know fruits and vegetables are full of fibre and all sorts of essential vitamins and minerals. But the chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colours (called phytochemicals) have some pretty special qualities, too. And each colour has its own unique health benefits. So ‘eating a rainbow’ each day means more than just getting enough fruit and veg – it’s about eating a wide variety of foods so your body gets all the essential nutrients it needs.
Check out our colour guide to fruits and vegetables to learn more about the unique health benefits of each colour group.
Red foods contain a number of antioxidants, including lycopene (tomatoes), anthocyanins (red berries) and ellagic acid (strawberries, raspberries and pomegranate). Lycopene is a pretty powerful antioxidant that can help reduce the risk of cancer and protect against heart disease.
Top tip: Cook your tomatoes! The body absorbs lycopene more easily when it’s been cooked, so for maximum benefit, lightly cook your tomatoes, use tinned tomatoes or make your own tomato sauce.
Learn more: apple, plum, raspberry, rhubarb, strawberry, watermelon, red capsicum, red chilli, red kidney bean, radish, tomato.
Our favourite red recipes
Orange foods are high in carotenoids, including alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which are responsible for the vibrant orange colour of foods such as pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots. The human body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which is important for healthy skin, a strong immune system, and good eye health and vision (see, grandma was right – eating your carrots really does help your eyes!).
Top tip: Carrot, not tablet! Too much vitamin A can be toxic, so avoiding taking vitamin A supplements. The body only converts as much vitamin A from beta-carotene as it needs, so try and get your vitamin A from foods instead of vitamin tablets
Learn more: apricot, mandarin, mango, orange, peach, persimmon, tangelo, carrot, orange capsicum, orange lentils, pumpkin, sweet potato (kumara).
Our favourite orange recipes
Like orange foods, yellow foods are rich in beta-carotene, a source of Vitamin A for the body. They also contain beta-cryptoxanthin – a powerful carotenoid with strong antioxidant properties. As well as links to cancer prevention, studies have shown that a small increase in your beta-cryptoxanthin intake can reduce your risk of developing inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Top tip: Cook with (a little) oil! Like all carotenoids, beta-cryptoxanthin is best absorbed by the body with some fats, so make sure to cook or dress yellow vegies with a little oil.
Learn more: grapefruit, lemon, pineapple, star fruit (carambola), yellow nectarine, yellow peach, button squash, yellow capsicum, sweet corn, yellow tomatoes, yellow zucchini.
Our favourite yellow recipes
Green vegetables are some of the most nutritionally charged foods around, packed full of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, peas and kale contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect against age-related eye disease. Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and pak choi are also sources of sulforaphane and glucosinolate, which may help protect against certain cancers and blood vessel damage (which can lead to heart attacks and stroke).
Top tip: Get hipster (without the beard)! Kale is the hipster vegetable of choice for a good reason. Not only is it one of the great all-round vegetables, it’s also versatile and easy to use: it can be eaten raw in salads, stir fried, used in soups and stews, and even turned into chips!
Learn more: avocado, grape, melon, kiwi, lime, pear, asparagus, green beans, fresh broad beans, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, chinese cabbage, green capsicum, celery, cucumber, globe artichokes, green herbs, green kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, okra, green olives, peas (green peas, snow peas, sugar, snap peas), silverbeet, spinach, spring onion, green zucchini.
Our favourite green recipes
Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that give blue and purple foods their colour and may help protect cells from damage and can reduce the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Beetroot, radishes and purple cabbage, carrots and beans are full of nitrates, which may help reduce blood pressure and enhance physical performance.
Top tip: Go to the dark side! As a general rule, the darker the fruit or vegetable, the more anitoxidants it has. Luckily, many vegetables have a purple form and some of the best fruits are dark (plums, figs, berries, grapes…).
Learn more: blueberry, passionfruit, blackberry, purple/blood plums, cherries, purple grapes, eggplant, beetroot, purple cabbage, purple or black capsicum, purple carrot, purple kale, black olives, purple onion.
Our favourite purple recipes
White fruits and vegetables can get their colour from anthoxanthins, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Banana and parsnip and are great sources of potassium, which is important for normal heart and muscle function, while cauliflower, turnip and cabbage contain sulforaphane, which is associated with fighting cancer, strengthening bone tissue, and maintaining healthy blood vessels.
The fibre in the skins of brown fruit and vegetables (such as potatoes, pears and mushrooms) helps maintain a healthy digestive tract and can reduce the risk of some types of cancer. Selenium – found in mushrooms – plays a key role in metabolism, supports the immune system and is an antioxidant. Pulses such as lentils and chickpeas have phytoestrogens that may help prevent hormone-related cancers.
Top tip: Love your garlic breath! Allicin, which is found in garlic, is known for its antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. Finely chop or crush garlic and add to your cooking just before you serve for maximum benefit.
White: white nectarine, white peaches, lychees, white currant, banana, apple cucumber, cauliflower, celeriac, Japanese radish (daikon), fennel, garlic, leeks, white onion, parsnip, shallots, white beans (cannellini, lima beans, navy beans, soybeans).
Brown: dates, buerre bosch pears, Borlotti beans, brown lentils, Jerusalem artichoke, mushroom, potato.
Our favourite white/brown recipes
Eating a rainbow
If you have a fussy eater at home, or just want to inspire the family to ‘eat a rainbow’ each day, the South Australian Department of Health has created a rainbow star chart for kids.
For some ideas on rainbow meals, head to our recipe collection.