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A Nutritionist On The Power Of Rainbow Foods + A Rainbow Recipe To Try

Carly Knowles, M.S., RDN, L.D.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist By Carly Knowles, M.S., RDN, L.D.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Carly Knowles, M.S., RDN, L.D. is a a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and food and nutrition expert. She is the author of The Nutritionist's Kitchen.
This RD's Tip Helps Gauge The Nutrient Density Of Meals + A Tasty Recipe
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Eating "rainbow food" refers to eating a colorful diet. For many of us, it may be easier and even more pleasing to eat monochromatic foods, especially tan, white, and brown foods, such as bread, rice, cheese, crackers, and other convenient foods that taste good but have fewer nutrients. As we learn more about food, we are finding that naturally colorful foods may actually deliver more health benefits, specifically more phytonutrients such as antioxidants and other health-promoting constituents.

Many of these nutrients have disease-preventing properties. By maintaining a varied and colorful whole foods diet, you are laying the foundation for nutritional success. Can you get a minimum of three colors on the plate at your next meal?

  • Red foods such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and guava are often rich in vitamin C and lycopene, which are both powerful antioxidants. Red foods also contain polyphenols, which help to reduce inflammation and maintain a healthy gut barrier. 
  • Orange/yellow foods such as carrots, squash, cantaloupe, and mango are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, which act as antioxidants, support healthy vision, and promote a healthy immune system.
  • Yellow/green foods such as kiwis, avocados, and pistachios typically contain lutein, which is beneficial for eye health, and vitamin C, which is most notable for its antioxidant and immune system support.
  • Green foods such as kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy are naturally rich in chlorophyll and isothiocyanates, which help the body to detox naturally. They're also rich in vitamin K, folate, potassium, omega-3 fatty acids, and carotenoids, which perform a variety of biological functions, including forming blood clots, preventing neural tube defects during fetal development, lowering blood pressure, and even protecting against some forms of cancer. 
  • Blue/purple foods such as eggplant, blueberries, plums, pomegranates, and blackberries contain anthocyanins, which are beneficial for heart health and maintaining healthy blood pressure. The darker the blue or purple (and oftentimes deep red), the richer the anthocyanin concentration.

Rainbow Rolls With Ginger Almond Sauce Recipe

Rainbow chard, a collection of varieties of chard, is incredibly nutritious, delivering ample amounts of magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, and potassium. Cabbage supports natural detoxification in the body due to its antioxidant content and sulfur-containing compounds. These two powerful plants, combined with the other vegetables, provide a recipe that's abundant in fiber, supports digestive health, and is naturally cleansing. Customize the ingredients to fit your preferred flavor profile, keeping in mind color and textural variation. Add thinly sliced and cooked fish, shrimp, tofu, or a spread of nut butter for more protein if desired. 

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Ingredients for the rolls

Makes about 8 rolls

  • 2 cups dried thin rice noodles or vermicelli rice noodles 
  • Toasted sesame oil 
  • 1 bunch rainbow chard, destemmed and each leaf torn in half crosswise
  • ½ small red cabbage, cored and shredded or thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, julienned (about 1 cup)
  •  ½ English cucumber, seeded and julienned (about ¾ cup) 
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned (about ¾ cups)
  • 1 cup cilantro, destemmed (thin stems OK)
  • Eight (8-inch) spring roll rice paper wrappers


  1. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cooking the rice noodles. Once they are cooked, drain the softened noodles and rinse in cold water to cool. Add them to a medium-size bowl and toss with a splash of sesame oil to keep them from sticking together. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the chard, red cabbage, bell pepper, cucumber, carrot, and cilantro; set aside. In a blender, blend all the sauce ingredients (see next page) on high until smooth. Pour into a small serving bowl and set aside. Lay out all of your ingredients in assembly-line fashion (aka mise en place) and get ready to put the rolls together. Include a prepared protein source in your mise en place if desired.
  3. Pour warm water about ¼ inch deep onto a round plate or into a baking dish (large enough to accommodate the dimensions of a rice paper wrapper) and set aside another empty round plate. These will become your rice paper wrapper station. Now, you're ready to roll.  
  4. Start by dipping one rice paper wrapper into the warm water for about 20 seconds or until soft and pliable (replenish warm water as needed). Remove it and gently place it on the empty plate, unfolding any areas. In the center of the prepared wrapper, lay down a piece of rainbow chard vertically lengthwise and add 3 to 4 pieces of each prepared vegetable in a neat line in the middle of the leaf. Add a heaping line of oiled rice noodles on top of the vegetables, along with a healthy helping of cilantro leaves.

Ingredients for the sauce

Makes about 1 cup

  • ⅓ cup unsweetened creamy almond or peanut butter
  • 2 inches fresh ginger (peel on OK if organic) 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup water 
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon red chili flakes or gochugaru


  1. Starting at the bottom of the chard leaf (leaving the rice paper alone for now), roll it over the contents, tucking in any stray vegetables, finishing with the seam side down. Re-center the wrapped chard roll in the middle of the rice paper and fold the left and right edges of the rice paper in and over the chard roll. Next, gently wrap the bottom edge closest to you up and over the chard roll, continuing until fully wrapped and secured. I find that this process is easiest with wet hands. Set aside and repeat with the remaining rolls. 
  2. To prevent the completed rolls from sticking together, I rub a drop or two of sesame oil on the outside of each roll before stacking them together on a serving plate. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate for 20 minutes until cold and serve with the ginger almond butter dipping sauce. You can also wrap each roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate to enjoy at a later time. The rolls will store well in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days before the rice paper wrapper will become chewy and start to dry out. The ginger almond butter sauce can be stored in a glass jar with an airtight lid and refrigerated up to 7 days.
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