When eating the rainbow, don't forget white and brown foods

Pair sliced in half, with one half facing forward and the other half facing backward, set on a white tablecloth. Contains Illinois Extension wordmark and orange "I" logo.
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As a registered dietitian nutritionist, we often tell people to “eat the rainbow.” There is good reason for this as it’s a reminder to include a variety of foods in our diet, especially produce that is deep and dark in color. It is true that many darkly colored foods, offer a large amount of antioxidants, substances that prevent damage to our cells. Hence collard greens, kale, spinach and even romaine lettuce all have more antioxidants than iceberg lettuce. However, without any white or brown in the rainbow, what does this mean for these colored foods, which are often overlooked or even shunned?

White, tan, and brown foods still contain powerful antioxidants, which originate from anthoxanthins, the pigment that gives these plants their creamy color. Foods like bananas, pears, parsnips, and ginger are all highly nutritious foods. Starchy foods, like potatoes, are sometimes villainized due to their carbohydrate content. However, it’s important to note that carbohydrates, which are a part of many white, tan and brown foods, like pasta, rice, bread and beans, are our body’s preferred source of energy, and they still offer important nutrients. Try to aim to make at least half of your grains whole grain and keep the starchy foods to no more than about one-fourth of your plate. So while “eating the rainbow” may be a good motto to live by, like most things, it needs more context. Maybe I’ll start a new phrase, “eat the rainbow…and the clouds!”


Sausage, Potato and Pepper Skillet

(Printable PDF)

1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 ½ pounds gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes

12 oz. smoked turkey sausage

1 red bell pepper, chopped

½ medium onion, chopped

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender and slightly brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove potatoes to a bowl and cover to keep warm. Heat ½ Tablespoon oil in the same skillet. Add the sausage, red pepper and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sausage is browned and vegetables are softened. Stir in garlic and seasoning, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Stir the potatoes back in and serve warm.

Yield: 6 servings


Nutrition Facts (per serving): 210 calories, 8 grams fat, 560 milligrams sodium, 26 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 11 grams protein


PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Dose Juice on Unsplash

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenna Smith is a Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Smith uses her experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist to deliver impactful information and cutting-edge programs to Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties and beyond. 

This blog post originally appeared in the Pantagraph on February 9, 2022.