Is the Rainbow Diet as Healthy as Claimed?

We’re constantly looking into diets to see if they are as good as they claim to be. The rainbow diet claims to boost immunity, energy and mental health. Can a diet really provide all those benefits? And how difficult is it to stick to?

By eating a list of differently colored foods, you can supposedly aid your health. At first glance, we like this diet a lot. It gives people a framework to eat a healthy, varied diet. The diet encourages eating colorful vegetables in various hues while reducing carbs, fat, gluten and meat. It is high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Eating the rainbow is essential for optimal mental health and well-being. Different colored plant foods contain a variety of nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals that support brain function and mood regulation. As a nutritional psychiatrist, I recommend various ways to incorporate the rainbow into your diet,” says Dr. Uma Naidoo, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist.

But, the diet has a few problems. The list of foods is broken down into nine categories. The first of the nine foods on the list you should eat is “colorful fruits and vegetables.” The following four are all foods that fall under that category. They are leafy greens, berries, “orange and yellow foods” like sweet potatoes and carrots and finally “purple foods” like blackberries and plums. While this might seem like a nitpicky problem to have with a diet, if this was real science and not a fad, wouldn’t that all be one category? Something immediately strikes us as off about it. All the foods are inarguably healthy, beneficial and a great way to boost health. But it makes us think that the diet claims might not be as sound as they first seem.

The diet’s other foods include nuts and seeds for their healthy fats and fiber. You eat herbs and spices like turmeric and ginger. Protein is consumed in the form of tofu, beans, fish and poultry — no red meat. Finally, whole grains — including wheat — round out the list. The diet claims to be gluten-free but contains wheat — the primary source of gluten. There is no medically proven reason not to eat gluten if you aren’t gluten-intolerant, and this diet doesn’t seem to know what gluten is. And, while red meat’s health impacts are up for debate, completely excluding it seems arbitrarily restrictive.

The diet claims to be an “approachable avenue towards cultivating sustained positive moods and harnessing unparalleled productivity while fostering an all-encompassing sense of wellness.” It contains a lot of great foods that we encourage people to eat. A balanced, varied diet can help you achieve your health goals. But that statement seems like an overpromise.

When you follow a “Roy G. Biv” approach to your plate and eat all the colors of the rainbow, you will get many helpful nutrients and vitamins. It’s a hack that nutritionists have been suggesting for years. Naturally red foods are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that can reduce the risk of cancer. Orange foods contain beta carotene that becomes vitamin A in the body. Yellow foods contain electrolytes that help balance blood pressure. The list goes on and on. But it doesn’t have magical properties like this diet seems to suggest.

Limiting your intake of processed foods and added sugar is essential for good health. Eating a diet that is packed with healthy foods helps you do that. This diet is healthy and helpful. It is not damaging and, besides cutting out all pork and beef, isn’t overly restrictive. However, we think the claims around it are overblown.  

Banner image: Polina Tankilevitch via Pexels

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