One popular recommendation for a healthy diet is to “eat the rainbow”. This strategy emphasizes the importance of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables to get the nutrients you need.
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According to nutritionist Joyce Prescott, MS, RD, LD, chemicals that give plants bright colors can be especially beneficial to your health. And fruits and vegetables at the purple end of the spectrum contain a chemical called anthocyanin, which has a nutritional effect.
What are anthocyanins?
Anthocyanins (an-tho-SY-uh-nins) are a group of deep red, purple and blue pigments found in plants. They are part of a larger category of plant-based chemicals called flavonoids. Flavonoids are abundant in all parts of plants: fruits, seeds, shoots, flowers and leaves. They help plants to multiply by attracting pollinators and protecting plants from environmental stressors such as UV (ultraviolet) light, drought and cold.
“Research shows that flavonoids are also powerful nutrients and may help explain why plant-based diets are consistently linked to health benefits,” says Prescott. “We think this is due in part to their antioxidant properties.”
Antioxidants destroy unstable molecules called free radicals that can damage your cells. Free radicals occur naturally as a by-product of metabolism, as well as exposure to environmental pollution, cigarette smoke, alcohol, sunlight and harmful chemicals.
Among about 6,000 known flavonoids, there are six main types of anthocyanins:
Where are anthocyanins?
Fruits, vegetables and grains in red, purple, blue or black shades are usually rich in anthocyanins. The fruits have the highest levels, especially black elderberry and chokeberry (chokeberry). Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are also great sources. Supplements high in anthocyanins include:
- fruits: Prunes, blood oranges, cherries, black and red grapes and pomegranate.
- Vegetables: Red cabbage, red onions, red radishes, purple cauliflower, purple corn and purple eggplant peel.
- Legumes and rice: Black beans, black rice and black soy.
- drinks: Grape juice and wine.
“Fresh and frozen forms of these foods retain the highest levels of this flavonoid,” said Prescott. “You will also find many types of anthocyanin supplements. Extracts of elderberry, chokeberry, cherry and blueberry are just some of the ones that have become popular. ”
What are the health benefits of anthocyanins?
Anthocyanin-rich foods are an important part of a healthy diet. But researchers are still studying their role in the treatment and prevention of specific diseases. Overall, evidence suggests that anthocyanins can provide a number of health benefits.
Here are some of the latest discoveries:
1. Lowers blood pressure
Anthocyanins may help lower blood pressure, according to a review of 66 studies. The participants in the study with hypertension took various extracts and preparations from plants containing anthocyanin. The study found that it has a permanent lowering effect on blood pressure. However, in other studies, researchers have identified many factors that have led to mixed results, such as:
- Dosage and type of anthocyanin (food, juice, lyophilized powder or extract).
- Number of doses (single versus long-term).
- Characteristics of the patient (baseline blood pressure of a person and other health conditions).
This study highlights the need for more research to establish a dosing regimen and determine who may benefit from anthocyanins.
2. Reduces the risk of heart disease
Atherosclerosis is when plaque builds up on the inside of your arteries. This build-up can cause high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease or kidney failure.
Plaque formation is a multi-stage process that depends on many factors. Prescott says research shows that anthocyanins can interfere at various stages in the process by reducing:
- Cholesterol, the main part of the poster.
- High blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels and make them more likely to develop atherosclerosis.
- Inflammation that leads to plaque formation.
4. Prevents neurological diseases
Studies show that anthocyanins can help protect and improve your brain function:
- One study found that a daily dose of cherry juice improved speech and memory in people aged 70 and older with mild to moderate dementia.
- Another study reported that anthocyanins increase blood flow to and activate brain areas that control memory, language and attention.
Researchers believe that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of anthocyanins are responsible for these improvements.
5. Slows down the growth of cancer
Anthocyanins can work in many ways to slow or stop cancer. Studies show that anthocyanins can:
- Block DNA changes that cause cancer.
- Destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing.
- Prevent the transformation of tumors into malignant (cancerous).
- Turns drug resistance and increases the sensitivity of tumors to chemotherapy.
However, Prescott warns that research on anthocyanins and cancer has been done mainly in the laboratory. There are only limited data from human clinical trials. Researchers must continue to investigate these findings in order to determine exactly how anthocyanins affect the growth and treatment of cancer.
How much anthocyanin should I take each day?
Although the results of many of these studies are promising, they do not offer clear guidelines on how much anthocyanin you should consume each day. Unlike essential vitamins and minerals, there is no daily recommended value.
“Your best strategy is to include anthocyanin-rich foods as part of your regular diet,” says Prescott. “We know that these foods are safe and can help improve your overall nutrition.
Should I take anthocyanin supplements?
There is no clear evidence to support the use of anthocyanin supplements. While supplements are widely available and claim many health benefits, data suggesting the use of these products do not usually exist.
Prescott recommends that you talk to your healthcare provider if you are considering taking an anthocyanin supplement. It is important to make sure that the supplement will not interfere with your current medication. Your healthcare provider can also help you decide if the supplement is the right choice based on your health and medical history.