Eat the Rainbow: Find the REAL Pot of Gold
Lately I have been thinking about the phrase ‘eat the rainbow.” I know it is some of the most important health advice ever given – which led me to the thought – the REAL pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is great health. And great health comes from eating well.
“Eat the Rainbow” — these days, if you Google that phrase, you’ll come up with a bunch of great visuals, and some toothsome lists of foods, and their nutrients.
There’s abundant great news about whole food rainbow nutrition and mind-body health these days. And we know for sure now that individual nutrients just don’t pack the punch that they do when they are part of whole foods. For that reason, I wish that nutrition articles wouldn’t say things like, “tomatoes are great because they contain lycopene,” or “citrus fruits are great sources of A, C and folate.” Yeah, that’s true, I guess… but so incomplete and misleading.
“Framing” a Meal
Instead, we need a “garden variety” or rainbow mindset. It’s dietary pattern that matters most. My mom – who was somewhat radical for her day, being an early fan of Adele Davis – taught me the value of whole grains and fresh veggies. But she also taught me her best frame for planning a meal – and I think most people still plan meals this way today, certainly nearly all restaurants do. The frame I learned at my mother’s knee is: the central dish is the “protein” — which in our house just about always meant meat – plus a starch, such as potatoes or rice. And then, to round it out, a cooked vegetable or a salad. A lot of people believe that meat protein is necessary to stave off hunger between meals, or even from having a hypoglycemic episode.
The “Rainbow Frame”
Now we are learning a very different frame, where the crucial starting point of every meal is the produce. According to the USDA1, half of every plate at every meal should feature fruits and veggies, and another quarter would be (whole) grains. But then, another quarter of their plate is “protein.” In fact, there’s plenty of protein in green veggies and in grains. (For example, there’s more protein, calorie for calorie, in broccoli than in steak. Really! You just need to eat a lot more broccoli – yum!) And fiber – in whole foods — seems to be the critical item for regulating blood sugar highs and lows from the calories you eat. So, if you eat enough broccoli to match the protein in a serving of steak, you would definitely not be hungry for a while, and all that fiber would manage your blood sugar quite nicely. Not that you would need to eat that much broccoli, for two reasons. Steak has way more protein than you need, and the other veggies and the grains (and legumes and sometimes nuts and seeds) on your plate contribute protein as well.
Plenty of Protein in Plants
Also, we’ve been sold a bill of goods regarding the necessity for “complete” protein, frequently also known as “high quality” protein. But “complete” was originally merely a shorthand technical descriptor: it was thought for a long time that there are more essential amino acids in meat and eggs and milk than in beans or grains or broccoli. This myth is still very widely promoted. But it has been utterly disproved. Here’s a fabulous blog post2 that covers this, with references, a whole lot more completely than I have space for here – I recommend it.
Rainbow Mindset for the Pot of Gold
So, for meal planning, protein is simply the wrong frame. In fact, any single-nutrient focus is the wrong frame. Whether you’re talking protein, carbs, fats, or antioxidants like Vitamin C, resveratrol or curcurminoids, if single nutrients are your focus, you’re missing the forest for the (broccoli and asparagus) trees.3
For vibrant health, delicious meals, and simplicity of meal planning, make produce, in abundant variety, the heart and soul of every meal. (And for the good of all our souls, know that you are also taking much better care of our planet when you move well away from the meat/protein/single nutrient mindset.)
So, if you want to build the health of the leprechauns in your house, make sure they know: to find the pot of gold they must “eat the rainbow.”
Beth Genly, RN, CNM is a mom, a retired nurse-midwife, and a passionate nutrition educator. She also helps families achieve rainbow nutrition every day through offering Juice Plus at BestMeJuicePlus.com, and the amazing Tower Garden, at Best.TowerGarden.com.
- For more science-based references discussing this plant-based diet, and the prevalent nutritional myths regarding “complete” protein, I refer you to the writings of Dr. John McDougall, M.D., Dr. Colin Campbell, PhD, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, M.D., as well as to the excellent blog post I linked to above, by Michael Bluejay, which includes a substantial list of science citations, and,
- Dr. Michael Greger, M.D., whose daily video review of the latest nutrition science at nutritionfacts.org, ought to receive some “best of the Web” citation, is a fabulous resource. You can subscribe to it if you like.