“Eating the rainbow” is a nutritional approach that can help you eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. When you eat the rainbow, you try to include many different colors of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Incorporating more colors allows you to consume many kinds of phytonutrients (nutrients found in plants).

Each type of phytonutrient has specific health benefits, and “eating the rainbow” makes it easier to get an ideal nutritional balance. Experts recommend that you eat one food from each of the rainbow groups each day.

This guide will help you understand the phytonutrients and health benefits that you can get from the rainbow color groups. You’ll learn about good food sources for each color and practical ways to incorporate rainbow foods into your meals.

Red Foods

Red foods are rich in phytonutrients like lycopene, ellagic acid and citrulline. Research suggests that these nutrients could help reduce your risk of esophageal and prostate cancers. Red foods have anti-inflammatory properties, and they are packed with antioxidants. Studies show that red foods could lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and they can reduce skin damage caused by sun exposure.

Tomatoes, tomato sauce, watermelon, strawberries, red peppers, grapes, beets and pomegranates are some of the red foods you could try. Eat raw tomatoes on a sandwich or salad, and try a tomato sauce over your favorite pasta. Drink watermelon or beet juice, and add red peppers to your next stir-fry. Strawberries are the perfect topping for desserts, and frozen grapes are a healthy alternative to chocolate-based snacks.

When using tomatoes, remember that cooked tomato products have more lycopene than raw tomato products. Smaller strawberries have more nutrients than larger ones, and watermelons are more nutritious when stored at room temperature.

Orange and Yellow Foods

Vitamin C and carotenoids are the major phytonutrients in orange and yellow foods. This nutrient may help reduce blood pressure, and it supports the health of the immune system. It can lower your risk of heart and eye conditions, too. Beta carotene and other carotenoids are part of the vitamin A family. Since beta carotene converts to vitamin A inside your body, it assists with healthy cell growth, and it may keep your vision sharp.

Hesperidin is a phytonutrient that’s found in citrus fruits. It increases blood circulation, and this could help prevent cold hands and feet. Hesperidin could also reduce your risk of a stroke.

Oranges, lemons, pineapples, mangoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash and carrots are ideal orange and yellow foods. Use oranges, mangoes and pineapples in smoothies or juices, and mix sweet potatoes with white potatoes when you make mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables. Grilled corn can be added to salads and homemade salsas, and carrots are excellent as an alternative to potato chips.

If you boil sweet potatoes, keep the skin on to preserve vitamin C levels. If you normally chop carrots before you boil them, try boiling them whole. That way, the boiled carrots will retain up to 25% more of a cancer-fighting compound called falcarinol.

Green Foods

Green foods include both leafy greens and cruciferous greens. Leafy greens contain high levels of a phytonutrient called chlorophyll, and they’re also rich in carotenoids. Cruciferous greens have other phytonutrients, including indoles, isothiocyanates and glucosinolates. Green foods, especially cruciferous vegetables, may reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. Foods in the green category are good sources of digestive enzymes, and they can help with tissue healing.

Leafy greens include spinach, kale, collards and Swiss chard. Broccoli, cabbage and arugula belong to the cruciferous vegetables category. Other foods in the green group include peas, kiwi, edamame, green apples and green beans. Try using spinach and kale in smoothies, juices and salads. Instead of making a potato salad, opt for a broccoli salad. Top a fruit salad with kiwi, and eat edamame as a snack.

When you cook spinach, steam it to preserve the highest concentration of nutrients. If you’re adding kiwi to a fruit salad, add it at the last minute. Kiwis have enzymes that can soften the surrounding foods.

Blue and Purple Foods

Blue and purple foods are especially rich sources of anthocyanins and resveratrol. These phytonutrients can promote longevity, enhance memory and combat inflammation. Research suggests that blue and purple foods may help protect you from cell damage and reduce your risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. The phytonutrients in these foods may slow down the progression of cancer, too.

Blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, red (purple) cabbage, prunes, figs and plums are some of the blue and purple foods you may want to add to your diet. Try adding blueberries to your cereal or oatmeal. Roasted eggplant can be served over pasta, and leaving the skin on provides more nutrients. Red cabbage adds color to coleslaw and salads, and prunes, figs and plums are delicious additions to cakes and other desserts. You may like serving fig preserves on toast, too.

Since the nutrients in blueberries are damaged at temperatures above 350 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to consume these berries raw. However, when you saute red cabbage, it retains high concentrations of nutrients.

White and Brown Foods

Anthoxanthins (flavonols and flavones) and allicin are the main phytonutrients in white and brown foods. These foods can help reduce cholesterol and inflammation, and they could reduce your risk of heart disease and colon cancer. White and brown foods may keep your bones strong, and they help your body maintain the proper balance of hormones.

White button mushrooms block aromatase, an enzyme that produces estrogen. A recent study of more than 2,000 women suggests that eating one of these mushrooms per day could reduce your risk of breast cancer by 64%.

In addition to mushrooms, cauliflower, garlic, onions, white potatoes, parsnips and leeks are other foods in the white and brown category. Try roasting cauliflower or making cauliflower rice, and add garlic and onions to sauces and stir-fried dishes. White potatoes can be served baked, mashed or fried, and roasted parsnips are a comforting winter dish.

To maximize the benefits of allicin, you could consume raw garlic. If you boil potatoes, allow them to cool down for a few minutes so that resistant starch (a “good” carbohydrate) can form.