Why eating rainbow food is good for your health
Choose naturally vibrant ingredients, from berries to all shades of veg and bright matcha, to create food that’s beautiful, playful and good for you too
Fantastical rainbow-coloured ‘unicorn’ recipes are a staple of our Instagram feeds. Pictures range from lattes swirled with artificial pinks and purples to bright smoothie bowls made from all-natural ingredients.
Vegetarian and vegan Instagrammers have made this style their own. Food stylist Adeline Waugh is best known for her viral photos of unicorn toast. She blends natural colourings with cream cheese to create dreamy rainbow toppings in pastel shades.
There are blue and purple noodles courtesy of Sydney-based The Sun-kissed Kitchen, using red cabbage to add a violet tint. Then there’s Taline Gabrielian, author of Hippie Lane: The Cookbook, whose plant-based recipes are bursting with natural colour.
Part of the appeal of unicorn food is that it’s fun and pretty to look at, but using a range of naturally colourful ingredients can be healthy too.
Why choose a rainbow diet?
“It’s really good to go for a range of foods in our diets, rather than demonising carbohydrates or cutting out food groups,” says nutritionist Kirsten Davies of The Food Remedy. “Even over-focusing on superfoods can limit our choices.”
Even though we’ve known for years that NHS guidelines recommend five portions of fruit and veg per day, ideally we should be aiming for 10. But getting your 10-a-day isn’t as intimidating as it sounds, according to Kirsten.
“Start by looking at each meal,” she says. “Add mushrooms and spinach to an egg for breakfast and snack on apples and almonds during the morning – that’s four portions before lunch! Think about practical ways to do it.”
Use colour as a healthy guide
Kirsten says that colours are a good guide to the nutrients found in fruit and vegetables, as each carries its own unique set of disease-fighting chemicals called phytochemicals. Red fruit and veg are coloured by lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that can reduce your risk of cancer. The rich purples and blues found in berries come from another antioxidant, anthocyanin.
Don't forget the white stuff
Though they may not look the most exciting on your plate, white fruit and veg are healthy too. Garlic, for instance, contains allicin, known for it's antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Did your mum ever tell you that carrots can help you to see in the dark? Well, there’s some truth in that old tale. Oranges and yellows indicate that a fruit or vegetable is a good source of beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A.
As well as supporting your immune system and keeping your skin in good condition, vitamin A also helps your vision in low light.
Don’t forget to eat your greens either, as these are full of carotenoids, indoles and saponins, which also have anti-cancer properties. Leafy greens, such as spinach and broccoli, are also excellent sources of folate, which we know is essential for a healthy pregnancy, but is also good for your heart, brain, cholesterol levels and more.
Eating the rainbow is a way of healthy eating we can all get behind. “If we focus on colour from natural sources, it can’t be a bad thing,” Kirsten agrees. So embrace your inner unicorn and try these beautiful rainbow recipes by food blogger Bo Porterfield.
Rainbow recipes to make at home
These colourful pots are packed with goodness and are the perfect way to enjoy avocado for breakfast if you have more of a sweet tooth. By now we've all tried beautifully smooth avocado chocolate mousse but in this recipe Bo swaps out rich, and potentially sickly, chocolate for light fruit flavours.
Simple, light and irresistibly pretty, these tarts make an impressive dessert for a dinner party and yet are just as welcome as a sweet snack. Plus, they suit practically all diets as the tarts are vegan, gluten and refined sugar free and very almost raw.
Step inside Bo's kitchen
Sharing her colourful recipes and love of vegan food inspired 31-year-old Harriet ‘Bo’ Porterfield to create Bo’s Kitchen. Bo’s love of food began at an early age. Her first words were “gone” and “more”, so it seemed only natural she’d pursue a career in the food industry! By day, she works for a food and drink delivery company, and in her spare time she develops recipes for her blog.
“I started the blog four years ago when I realised that I was taking lots of pictures for Instagram, but I had nowhere to put the recipes,” explains Bo. “It made sense to have an online cookbook.”
The technicolor recipes on Bo’s blog are both beautiful and healthy – and they’re all vegan, as Bo’s been a vegan for 10 years. “It was partly for health and partly for ethical reasons, but mainly because I wanted to see if I could do it,” she says. “I was raised a vegetarian and one day I was in a supermarket and just thought, ‘I’ll give it a go’.”
Just give it to them without saying what it is and they usually love it.
Bo’s stunning Instagram recipes reflect her eating habits. “Most of the food is cooked and eaten on the same day,” says Bo.
“Today, I posted a beetroot mousse which I made this morning. Setting up a photo takes at least two hours, plus the time spent prepping the food. These days it takes longer because I’m such a perfectionist! It’s usually cold food rather than hot, although my boyfriend is sick of eating cold pancakes!”
Her friends and family love her food and want to come around all the time – non-vegans included. “I don’t believe in labelling vegan food, as people have certain expectations of what vegan food is like,” says Bo.“Just give it to them without saying what it is and they usually love it.”
More like this
Becoming a vegan forced Bo to expand her tastes and try new things. “For most vegans the biggest question is ‘What do you eat?’,” she says. “But it’s not difficult to get all the nutrients you need from vegan food.”
While Bo’s recipes are extremely healthy, she definitely has a sweet tooth – her Instagram feed is dominated by pictures of desserts, from pancakes to parfaits. “I used to be a huge fan of fizzy sweets and my friend called me Haribo, which was shortened to Bo,” she explains. Bo doesn’t eat non-vegan sweets any more, but aims to create “sweet, colourful food that’s good for you.” “I dig anything that looks sugar-laden but isn’t,” she explains. “My food is all really healthy and there’s no downside to what I cook.”
Bo often adds natural colourings to her food: spirulina for green shades, butterfly pea tea for blue, a pinch of turmeric for bright yellow, fresh beetroot or beetroot powder for pink, and to get purples she uses blackberries or red cabbage. And she recommends shopping and eating with your eyes. “If you see something you like the look of then buy it. Fruit may be more expensive, but you’ll feel the benefit of eating more healthily in the long run.”
Learn how to take your own stylish photos with Bo's guide to food photography.
4 health-boosting foods to add to your plate
Bursting with nutrients, vitamins and anti-oxidants, these foods will give you even more of the good stuff and promise to add a vibrant touch to your increasingly colourful meals.
As well as adding a pretty pink shade to your food, whether used fresh orin the form of powder, beetroot has numerous health benefits. It increases antioxidants in your blood, reduces blood pressure and can help improve your stamina. Many athletes swear by it, including Paralympic gold medallist David Weir. Drink beetroot juice before hitting the gym and work out like a pro.
The humble cauliflower is finally getting the recognition it deserves, cropping up in all kinds of recipes from cauliflower rice to cauli steaks and even pizza. When lightly cooked, this cruciferous vegetable can help protect against cancer and even lower your cholesterol. Steaming or light sautéeing will stop the cauli becoming waterlogged and will preserve its nutrients.
One of the easiest superfoods to add to your diet, blueberries are high in anthocyanins, which reinforce blood vessels and collagen. Like other berries, they’re a good source of antioxidants and give your body a dose of potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B6. Add a handful to yoghurt for a quick dessert or sprinkle some on your breakfast cereal.
Add a dash of this vivid powdered green tea to sweet dishes for instant colour. It’s super-healthy too: matcha has 137 times more antioxidants than ordinary green tea. It boosts your metabolism and can also improve your concentration thanks to its L-theanine content, which has a similar effect to caffeine (minus the jitters).
Photos by Bo Porterfield and Brenda Godinez, Gabriel Gurrola, Marine Dumay via Unsplash