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Anthocyanins: Eat Purple!
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The color purple marks a plant’s production of anthocyanins,a unique class of polyphenols that provide powerful health effects.

The color purple marks a plant’s production of anthocyanins,
a unique class of polyphenols that provide powerful health effects.

Selecting foods rich in this color is an easy strategy
to boost your intake of healthy anthocyanins.

Why are plums purple? Why is red wine that beautiful ruby-reddish purple? Why is eggplant dark purple?

Polyphenols are a unique class of plant-based, never animal-based, compounds that are increasingly implicated as the principal source of health benefits from vegetables and fruits.

Anthocyanins are the largest class of pigmented polyphenols in nature responsible for the colors purple, blue, and red (color variations that depend on pH, attached sugar molecules, and the nature of other “side groups”). To date, 600 different anthocyanins have been identified from blueberries, lingonberries, grapes, eggplant and other similar-colored plants. Anthocyanins are proving to be a particularly interesting subgroup of polyphenols that yield outsized health benefits. (Interestingly, anthocyanins pigments are “used” by plants to mimic insects, such as caterpillars, a recent discovery and a reversal of the more common situation of insects mimicking plants for camouflage.)

When an additional sugar group is added to the 3-ring anthocyanin structure, the resulting compound is the anthocyanidin counterpart of the anthocyanin. The most abundant are malvidin, petunidin, peonidin, cyanidin, delphinidin, and pelargonidin. Average daily anthocyanin intake in the U.S. is 180-215 mg (Mazza 2007).

Anthocyanins and anthocyanidins are flavonoids, the class of plant-based compounds that have, in several large observational studies, been associated with benefits in mortality, reductions in heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (Zern 2005; Kris-Etherton 2002.)
Experimental models have suggested that anthocyanins:

  • Act as antioxidants and effectively reduce oxidized LDL
  • Reduce atherosclerosis (Aviram 2004)
  • Decrease triglycerides, increase HDL and apoA1
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Promote cholesterol efflux from macrophages

Recent interesting human data include:

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