What You Should Know About Anthocyanins — and How to Eat More of Them

Photo by Bruna Branco | Unsplash

Are you living your best life at the peak of wellness, or feeling a little worn down and sluggish lately? Whether you’re full of energy or wish you could muster more of it, what you’re eating may have a direct impact on how you feel. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I started learning to listen to my body. I became hyper aware of how my husband and I felt physically and emotionally during that time, especially understanding how much the medical and scientific communities were still trying to understand about the virus in those early days. Tuning into cues from my body, how I fueled it, and how certain foods impacted how I felt on a day-to-day basis transformed my approach to health and wellness. Specifically, I started paying more attention to inflammation.

Understanding the Impact of Inflammation

Taking the time to better understand that how we fuel our bodies can have a direct and significant impact on inflammation and how our immune system responds to it has been a real gamechanger. Inflammation has been linked to such chronic diseases as heart disease and diabetes. Since hyperlipidemia, or genetically high cholesterol, runs in my family, it’s important for me to ensure the foods I eat are helping, not hurting, my long-term health.  

As a former health writer I often geek out on medical research and peer-reviewed journals. Compounds that I’ve become particularly interested in are called anthocyanins: the powerful antioxidant-rich pigments that give purple and blue fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Think berries, figs, eggplants, cherries, purple cabbage and plums, among many other purple and blue foods.

The following sections address more about anthocyanins: what they are, how they work, their role in reducing inflammation and some of the other health benefits they offer. We’ll also look at some of the most common food sources of anthocyanins, delicious ways to incorporate anthocyanins into your diet and nutrient-dense recipes from the Sweet New Roots kitchen! 

Let’s dive in.

What are Anthocyanins and How Do They Work?

Anthocyanins are a group of flavonoids that are responsible for the vibrant hues of purple, blue, and red in certain fruits and vegetables. These compounds work to protect plants from environmental stressors and have recently gained attention for their potential health benefits in humans, which is quite fascinating when you think about it!

At a molecular level, anthocyanins, such as those present in blue colored fruits like blueberries, work to reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory compounds called cytokines, according to research cited by Oxford University Press. They also hunt or scavenge free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause cellular damage and lead to inflammation. By neutralizing these harmful molecules, anthocyanins play a crucial role in reducing oxidative stress, which is a major cause of chronic inflammation. 

It’s a complex topic. At the most basic level, I like to think of anthocyanins as the good guys on the hunt for the bad guys. Once those bad guys are captured and neutralized, the harm they cause is therefore minimized … or something like that. More good guys, fewer bad guys.

Now that we broadly understand what anthocyanins are and how they work, let’s take a closer look at the specific health benefits they offer and the best food sources to incorporate into your diet. (Spoiler alert: foods that are purple take center stage!)

Interested in learning more about the connection between diet and inflammation? Check out this article, How to Fight Inflammation with Food.

Health Benefits of Anthocyanins

Research shows that a diet rich in anthocyanins – the good guys! – comes with a host of health benefits, including improved heart health, lower risk of certain cancers, better cognitive function … and fewer of those aforementioned bad guys. In fact, some studies suggest that these compounds may even help prevent age-related cognitive decline. This article by Cleveland Clinic is a fantastic resource if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into the health benefits of anthocyanins.

What’s more, a review of 66 studies found that anthocyanins may help reduce blood pressure. Another study cited by the National Library of Medicine found that consuming berries high in anthocyanins can decrease the risk of heart attack in women, while yet another study showed that consuming a diet rich in anthocyanins can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Reap the health benefits of anthocyanins by incorporating blue and purple fruit and vegetables into your diet, which shouldn’t be much of a challenge considering they’re some of the most widely accessible fresh produce.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the food sources of anthocyanins.

Foods Rich in Anthocyanins

The vibrancy of blue and purple fruits and vegetables indicates their disease-fighting properties. According to WebMD, the more color in the fruit, the higher the level of anthocyanins. Here are some of the top food sources of anthocyanins:

  • Berries – Give us all the berries! We’re talking blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries and strawberries. These blue colored fruits and their red and purple friends are all excellent sources of anthocyanins. 
  • Cherries – Hello, summer stone fruits! Both sweet and sour cherries are rich in anthocyanins and a delicious addition to sweet and savory dishes.
  • Eggplant – The skin of eggplant is high in anthocyanins, making it another healthy choice for your newfound appreciation for purple vegetables. Enjoy eggplant grilled, sauteed or baked.
  • Grapes – The skins of red and purple grapes contain anthocyanins, making them an easy and healthy choice for those looking to increase their blue and purple fruit and vegetable intake.
  • Purple or red cabbage – This crunchy cruciferous purple vegetable is packed with anthocyanins, giving it its vibrant color. It also boasts a range of nutrients that include iron, magnesium, vitamin K and dietary fiber, among others.

Try These Anthocyanin-Rich Recipes

One of the easiest ways to incorporate anthocyanins into your diet is through colorful fruits like blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. These red, purple and blue colored fruits can be added to smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal in the morning or simply enjoyed as a snack throughout the day. Additionally, grapes, cherries, and pomegranates are rich in anthocyanins and make a great addition to salads or as toppings for desserts.

Purple vegetables such as onions, cabbage and eggplant are also packed with anthocyanins. Roast red onions or red cabbage to add to your favorite sandwich or salad for an extra nutritional boost. Incorporating anthocyanin-rich foods into your diet can be a gamechanger for your health, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find new ways to include these foods in your diet. 

Here are a few Sweet New Roots recipes rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins to get you started:

Keep Reading to Learn More About Fighting Inflammation

We’ve barely scratched the surface about how to fight inflammation with food. For more information about the connection between inflammation and diet, see the below resources:

*Medical Disclaimer: All content and information on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Sweet New Roots, LLC is not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this website

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