Eat a Rainbow! – Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine

Eat a Rainbow!

With so many dietary trends making news these days, it can be overwhelming to figure out what to follow for optimal health.  Paleo or vegetarian? Gluten free or organic whole grain? Raw foods vs cooked?

While there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach for every child or adult, here’s one concept on which most experts do agree- eat more fruits and vegetables.

How do we know we need more?

According to 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control, 60% of U.S. kids ages 2-18 years are not getting enough fruit and 93% are not getting enough vegetables on a regular basis. Grown ups in this country are not doing any better, with over 82% not getting enough fruit and over 86% not eating enough daily vegetables.


Given the increased rate of chronic illnesses in this country for adults, teens and kids, we need to step up our plant based intake now more than ever. Numerous studies have shown that people who eat adequate amounts of these foods on a regular basis have a decreased risk of many chronic health conditions including constipation, obesity, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.  In addition, kids who eat enough fruits and veggies on a daily basis have been shown to have better academic performances in school.

How much produce are we talking about?

The specific recommendations for daily fruit and vegetable intake depends on age, gender, and level of physical activity.

most kids and teens: 1-2 cups of fruit, and 1-3 cups of veggies/day

adults: 1 1/2 -2 cups fruit and 2-3 cups of veggies/day

What role does produce play in maintaining health?

In addition to being rich sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals, plant-based foods are loaded with phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are responsible for the color, not to mention the taste and smell of not only fruits and veggies, but also nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and teas. Beyond the vibrant ruby hue of a freshly cut pomegranate. or the enticing aroma of a simmering curry, scientific data on the health benefits of phytonutrients has exploded in recent years. Phytonutrients have been shown to act as potent anti-inflammatory agents, boost our immune systems, have anti-cancer properties, help rid our bodies of toxins, and improve our brain, heart and blood vessel health.

Phytonutrients are also excellent team players. When different groups of them are eaten together, they act synergistically to produce even more profound effects on our health. This is why we might want to eat a rainbow of colors every day!

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Here are some combination ideas to get you started:

– celery and nut butter

– carrot sticks and hummus

– a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, sunflower seeds and olive oil brings your count to 5!

– berry smoothie with chia seeds and cacao powder

– green smoothie with avocado, mango and spinach

– salsa- tomatoes, onion, chile, lime, cilantro, and black pepper puts the count at 6!

– oatmeal with cinnamon and nutmeg

– roasted sweet potatoes with garlic and thyme

– vegetable minestrone

– veggie stir fry with sesame seeds


Remember to buy organic when you are able, especially for those plants with high pesticide contamination when grown conventionally.

Become familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 list of conventionally grown produce with highest to lowest contamination. Check this out at

To learn more about how phytonutrients work, check out my article, “A Rainbow of Phytonutrients”, at