Color Me Healthy…..
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you should eat fruits and vegetables. That’s like telling someone they should breathe clean air and drink pesticide-free water and not sit naked on an ice block; common knowledge stuff.
But despite the universal recommendation to eat fruits and vegetables, few people know why, other than the usual vague generalities. Go ahead, ask someone. Ask your mother. Maybe she took an introductory nutrition class in college so she’ll say, “Because of the riboflavin, honey,” but she’d be only partly right.
The reason fruits and vegetables are good for us isn’t only because of the vitamins and minerals in them (although they’re certainly a plus), but because of the incredibly wide array of phytochemicals they contain.
Whenever you hear someone ascribe some miraculous power to a fruit or vegetable, like avocados cure cancer or that pomegranate gives you hefty, carrot-like erections, it’s because of the biologically active compounds in plants known as phytochemicals.
Some, however, appear to be far more powerful than others and may keep your liver healthy, shore up your heart, give you super night vision, coerce your fat cells into disgorging fat, and preferentially cause nutrients to be stored in muscle. Luckily, the most powerful of these phytochemicals can easily be identified by their color.
The Color That Shouts “Eat Me”
Here’s how the classification system breaks down:
- Phytochemicals contain major categories like carotenoids and polyphenols.
- These major categories, in turn, include phenolic acids, flavanoids, and stilbenes/lignans.
- Flavanoids include the flavones, flavanones, flavanols, isoflavones, and anthyocyanins.
It’s possible to break them down even further and in different directions, but it’s this last subcategory that contains phytochemicals of particular interest, and that’s the anthocyanins.
They’re found in teas, honeys, wines, nuts, olive oils, cocoa, cereals, and certain fruits and vegetables. Some foods, in particular though, are colored red, purple, or indigo (blue), and that means they’re stuffed with anthocyanins. It’s the blue or indigo color that might be the most powerful of all, though.
Why Anthocyanins Are So Dang Cool
Here’s a short list of some of the things anthocyanins do:
- Shrinks body fat and grows muscle: Science is always looking for a pill that mimics the effects of exercise. We already have one. It’s called the blueberry. The fruit is rich in a particular anthocyanin called cyanidin 3-glucoside and multiple studies have shown it causes muscles to slurp up carbs from the blood. That way, you give muscles what they need to grow while simultaneously preventing fat cells from expanding.
- Fights diabetes: Since anthocyanins, cyanidin 3-glucoside, in particular, help muscles become more insulin sensitive and absorb more sugar, they have the potential to be a functional food against diabetes. In one study they fared better than the anti-diabetic drug acarbose in inhibiting alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase, two enzymes that break down starches to glucose.
- Prevents cancer: Various studies have shown anthocyanins to stop metastasis of breast cancer cells; to block tumor cells from forming in cases of prostate cancer; to fight colon cancer; to prevent pre-cancerous mouth tumors from becoming malignant; and to stop cancer metastasis in general.
- Boosts brain power: Anthocynanins have been shown to slow the rate of cognitive decline.
- Improves vision: Anthocyanins can improve night vision and prevent eye fatigue.
- Promotes liver health: Livers fortified by anthocyanins are much less prone to alcohol damage.
- Ensures heart health: A study with over 93,600 young and middle-aged women found that anthocyanins reduced risk of heart attack by 32%. The phytochemicals also keep blood pressure low.
What Foods Contain Anthocyanins?
As mentioned, any natural food that’s red, indigo (blue), or purple likely contains a good deal of anthyocyanins, stuff like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, cranberries, eggplant, plums, grape juice, prunes, red wine, apples, red beans, red beets, purple rice, and strawberries.
The only problem is that the bioavailability of anthocyanins is ridiculously low. Studies have shown that after eating plant matter rich in anthocyanins, less than 1% were detectable in plasma and urine, which is all the more reason to eat as many of them on a regular basis as possible (the theory being that the more you eat, the more anthocyanins you jam through).