Getting started: Eat the rainbow

Getting started: Eat the rainbow

Randi Glenn
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
978 184949 587 5
Dan Jones

Colour is an excellent indicator of the different nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables. Each shade offers a unique benefit to our health. So don’t just eat your greens, eat your oranges, reds, purples and whites, too!


Carotenoids give orange/yellow vegetables and fruits their colour. Beta-carotene – found in carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and mangos – is a particularly important carotenoid. It is used to produce vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy skin, eyes and immune systems. Orange and yellow citrus fruits are very good sources of vitamin C.


The red colour of many fruits and vegetables – tomatoes or watermelons, for example – is due to the plant pigment lycopene. This is a powerful antioxidant which has been shown to limit damage to cells and help reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers, particularly prostate cancer. Lycopene has also been shown to prevent damage caused by sun exposure. Most red fruits and vegetables are also rich sources of vitamin C.


Anthocyanin is the plant pigment which gives blue/purple – and some red – vegetables and fruits their colour. Think of beetroots, blackberries and blueberries. Anthocyanins have strong antioxidant properties, which have been shown to reduce the risk of cell damage, some cancers, heart disease and strokes.


Green fruits and vegetables get their colour from the plant pigment chlorophyll, and they contain a range of phytochemicals which have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. Green leafy vegetables are also an excellent source of folate, iron and vitamin C, which in turn helps the absorption of iron.


White or white/yellow fruits and vegetables get their colour from a compound called anthoxanthin, which may lower the risk of heart disease and help to relieve the pain and swelling of arthritis. Some white produce, such as garlic, contains allicin which has antibacterial and antiviral properties and may help reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Root-to-flower eating

Including all the different parts of plants in our diet not only gives us a variety of nutrients, but also offers a whole host of contrasting textures, which make vegetable dishes much more interesting to eat. Vegetables and fruits can be derived from many parts of a plant, including those fruits that often masquerade as vegetables, such as avocados, aubergines, cucumbers, peppers, squashes and tomatoes.

Vegetables that grow above ground – with the exception of seeds and pulses – can usually be eaten raw or require light cooking only, for example steaming, microwaving, stir-frying or light roasting.

Vegetables that grow below ground can usually withstand higher cooking temperatures and need longer to cook. Suitable cooking methods include roasting or longer simmering.

Below ground:

Roots: beetroot, carrot, celeriac, parsnip, radish, swede, turnip

Bulbs and tubers: garlic, leek, onion, shallot, spring onion, sweet potato

Above ground:

Stems and shoots: asparagus, bamboo shoot, celery, fennel, kohlrabi

Leaves: cabbage, kale, lettuce, pak choi, spinach, watercress

Flowers: artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower

Fruits: aubergine, avocado, cucumber, okra, pepper, pumpkin, squash, tomato

Seeds: corn, peas

Pulses: beans, chickpeas, lentils

Cook carefully

Most fruits and many vegetables can be eaten raw, which maintains their nutritional value. But some are even more nutritious when lightly cooked, as cooking helps release their nutrients, for example lycopene from tomatoes and beta-carotene from peppers. Cooking helps release starch and other nutritional substances from some vegetables, making it easier for our bodies to use them.

Steaming and blanching vegetables is a much better cooking method than boiling. Heat destroys nutrients and they can leak into cooking water. So it is best to limit the amount of water you use and the time you leave your vegetables simmering.

Oven roasting, either with a little oil or dry roasting without oil, really concentrates the flavours of vegetables. It will caramelise those that can withstand higher cooking temperatures and require a longer cooking time, such as root vegetables and tubers.

Roasting vegetables with or without oil is also a great way to cook lots of vegetables at once and perfect for aubergines, carrots, courgettes, mushrooms, onions, peppers and squashes. Once roasted, you’re much more likely to eat them.

Lightly stir-frying is a good way to cook vegetables quickly, but restrict the amount of oil you use to keep the fat content down. If you stir-fry, avoid using olive oil as it breaks down at higher temperatures (save it for salads, or for dressing raw vegetables). Sunflower oil is a good substitute.

Microwaving chopped vegetables in a little water is an excellent and quick way to cook them. Frozen vegetables and pre-washed leaves such as spinach cook very well in their plastic packaging.

Save deep-fried vegetables for an occasional treat.

Store sensibly

Cutting vegetables, thus exposing them to light and oxygen, causes damage which can destroy nutrients, so it is best to chop vegetables just before cooking. If you do pre-prepare, seal and store fresh chopped vegetables in the fridge, in the dark, to prolong their life.

Most green vegetables store well in the fridge.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions should be kept in a cool, dark place. Don’t keep potatoes in the fridge, as they will lose some of their taste.

Avoid plastic bags where possible, as these do not let the vegetables breathe and allow moisture to build up. Paper bags are better.

Keep vegetables that are past their best away from fresh vegetables, as keeping them together accelerates decomposition.

Use up leftover carrot, onion and celery to make stock. (You can portion this up and freeze it.)

Corn on the cob freezes well without pre-cooking. From frozen, simply boil for eight minutes and it will taste like fresh corn.

We do not recommend freezing French beans or peas. The commercial methods used for freezing these create a superior frozen product. Beans and peas tend to lose their colour and texture when frozen at home.

If you have a glut of tomatoes, it is best to blanch and skin them before freezing. Or make a sauce by skinning tomatoes, then cooking them for 40 minutes to one hour. You can portion this up in bags and freeze. Add chilli if you prefer a spiced tomato sauce.

Cook fresh vegetables that are starting to look tired, then store them in the fridge. This will buy you more time, so you have longer to eat them.

Topping-up tips

Buy your favourite vegetables and fruits when they are in season, cook them and freeze them, and you will have a ready supply. Butternut squash, corn, courgette and pumpkin can be chopped and frozen without pre-cooking; just add straight from the freezer to a soup, curry or stew.

When making soups, curries or stews, add a couple of handfuls of spinach or other greens towards the end of the cooking time.

One heaped tablespoon of tomato purée counts as one of your five-a-day and is really easy to add to a variety of dishes.

Add ‘meaty’ pulses such as lentils or borlotti or pinto beans to dishes such as chilli or lasagne. The canned varieties are particularly convenient.

Blitzing onion, celery and carrot finely and adding to the base of a soup, curry, stew or bake provides extra portions of vegetables, adds great flavour and reduces the need for stock powder.

Salad leaves are nutritious but they are very light, so for one 80g portion you need a large bowlful. But watercress and herbs count too and they will add flavour and interest to your salad leaves.

Even breakfast is a great time to start thinking about five-a-day. A traditional English cooked breakfast can get you there. Beans, tomatoes and mushrooms with a glass of juice will give you four of your five portions. Then try adding a portion of spinach – great with eggs – and you’ll get to five!

Make any of our delicious dips and leave them in the fridge. If you need a quick snack, or if the kids are hungry after school, you’ll be amazed at how quickly dips get devoured. If raw vegetables are ready-chopped for use as dippers, these usually disappear quickly, too…

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