Featured Food & nutrition Wellness

Tap into the benefits of the food rainbow

Food rainbow
Monica Matys
Written by Monica Matys

A healthy and balanced diet is important for everyone. And for people living with type 2 diabetes, nutrition is a key component in managing the condition. At the latest Sunnybrook Speaker Series, Enhancing Your Diabetes Management, registered dietitian Jill Zweig offered some nutritional inspiration by explaining the benefits of tapping into the food rainbow.

Eating a variety of foods from the various food groups provides the body with energy, essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Some vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that must be supplied through food. There are also other components in food, such as phytochemicals, that help the body function more efficiently and effectively, says Zweig, who is also a diabetes educator with the Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team.

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds found in plants, and are part of a large group of chemical compounds responsible for the colour, flavor and odor of many foods. Zweig says the next time you prepare a meal, consider all the benefits the various colours offer in their natural form.


Pigmented by chlorophyll, dark green vegetables are an important source of folate. Folate, in turn, is a rich source of antioxidants and is important for DNA replication and repair. Green fruits and vegetables also contain high levels of iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, C and K. Vitamin K is essential for blood clot formation.

Orange & red

These fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A. Vitamin A is often referred to as the vision vitamin, and helps keep the immune system healthy. Many orange and red fruits and vegetables are also a great source of vitamin C, which is important for the growth and repair of bones, teeth and skin, as well as iron absorption. Lycopene, which has antioxidant properties, is another benefit of this colour group.

Blue & purple

Zweig says this group contains phytochemicals in the anthocyanin group, responsible for giving these foods their intense colour. Anthocyanins belong to a parent group called flavonoids, which also have an antioxidant role. As a rule of thumb, vegetables should take up one half of your plate.

No colour? No problem!

Starches and grains should only take up one quarter of your plate, says Zweig. These typically have little or no colour when they are in their natural form. Some phytochemicals are colourless, the largest group being flavonoids. Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa and barley are rich in flavonoids. Keep in mind that whole grains are more nutrient dense when eaten in their more natural form, compared to more processed starches like white bread, white rice, pasta, crackers, cookies and donuts.


No balanced diet is complete without protein, says Zweig. In this category, you can get colour from eggs, fish and meats. So which proteins are the best to eat? Overall, she says variety is important as it gives you a chance to get nutrients from all different sources. Meat alternatives, like beans and lentils, are also good choices.

Fats & oils

Healthy fats come from plant products, which contain phytochemicals as well as essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Zweig says its good to choose healthy fats that have some colour and various textures, like avocado, nuts and seeds.

Sow how do you pull the rainbow together to create healthy eating every day? Zweig recommends to aim for two different coloured fruits, two different coloured vegetables, two different coloured cooked vegetables, whole grains, white meat and fish. And remember to use the rainbow for inspiration at your next meal!

Watch the talk:


About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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