The Power of Purple Foods

Eat by color for better health.

Photo: Basket of purple vegetables

Anthocyanin. It’s a big word for a tiny pigment in some of the healthiest foods. “Colorful fruits and veggies get those beautiful colors because of the phytochemicals that are in the plants,” says Deborah Enos, certified nutritionist in Seattle. “Scientists believe that anthocyanins, compounds that give purple-toned foods their color, are responsible for many of their wonderful health properties.” In particular, these compounds may help destroy free radicals that cause cell damage, reduce inflammation levels, and fight disease.

“Phyto means plant,” Enos says. Phytochemicals occur naturally in all plant-based foods and give them taste and color. They function similarly to vitamins, and could reduce risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Widely-known benefits include strengthening the immune system, preventing cell mutations associated with cancers, keeping bones healthy with age, and warding cellular oxidation (which is, basically, rusting of the cells), she says. Purple, blue, and red-hued foods are excellent sources of phytonutrients.

Rainbow Benefits
To fulfill your 5-a-day, Enos suggests having at least 2 servings of greens and 1 serving each of red/purple, yellow/orange, and white/brown plant foods. “Purple and blue foods make up a very small percentage of the average American’s fruit and vegetable intake, so aim to eat more,” she says.

Try these anthocyanin-rich foods:

  • Beets

  • Berries

  • Black beans

  • Black rice

  • Blue potatoes

  • Eggplants (try Chinese eggplant!)

  • Figs (the darker the fig, the higher the anthocyanin content)

  • Grapes

  • Plums and prunes

  • Purple asparagus

  • Purple cabbage

  • Purple and heirloom tomatoes

  • Pomegranate seeds

  • Red bell peppers

  • Red onions

Enjoying anthocyanin-rich foods:

  • Slip shredded cabbage into fish tacos.

  • Try blue potatoes in German potato salad.

  • Make eggplant Parmesan.

  • Spread figs, berries, or ripe plums on toast for healthy jam.

  • Freeze grapes for a sweet snack.

  • Rub tomatoes over crusty bread for tasty tapas.

  • Use beet puree to dye red velvet cake.

  • Have a taco bowl with black rice and beans.

  • Coil roasted asparagus in smoked salmon or turkey bacon.

  • Add pomegranate seeds to your favorite salsa recipe.