Why Are Some Vegetables Purple?

Category: Nutrition 75

Purple foods are nothing new. In fact, you’ve likely been eating some purple vegetables since childhood. And purple veggies have been around for a long time. Some vegetables are naturally purple, like eggplant. And some are purple because farmers bred them to be colorful, like purple cauliflower. For thousands of years, humans have been tweaking the genetics of foods — naturally!

The process is called selective breeding. Unlike genetically modifying foods, it’s a slower process. Farmers select and grow crops with desired traits over time.

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The deep purple color of fruits and veggies is usually a sign these foods have a good dose of antioxidants. A particular type of antioxidant called anthocyanins gives plants (including flowers) their vivid violet colors. (They also give red foods, like tomatoes, and blue foods, like blueberries, their colors.)

Anthocyanins protect purple vegetables from sunlight damage, cold temperatures, and other stressors. And they attract pollinators, like bees and butterflies. They also can help protect and heal your cells from damage and protect you from many lifestyle diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases. For centuries, people have used anthocyanins in herbal medicines (from dried leaves, berries, roots, and seeds).

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And mixtures and extracts with anthocyanins have been used for a wide range of health conditions. Including everything from hypertension and liver disorders to kidney stones and urinary tract infections — and the common cold.

Anthocyanins have a wide range of health-promoting benefits.

Science is showing that they are:

Anti-Inflammatory — Anthocyanins have consistently shown to reduce inflammation. Why is this important? Because chronic inflammation is one of the underlying causes of many diseases of our times. Including Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, heart disease, allergies, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and joint disease, depression, some types of cancer, and obesity.

Heart Healthy — Consuming a high amount of anthocyanins has been shown by a 2012 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition to improve many cardiovascular risk factors, including ability to lower artery stiffness and lower blood pressure.

Anti-Cancer — Anthocyanins are associated with cancer prevention. For example, a 2013 study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research suggests that purple sweet potato may protect against colorectal cancer — the third most common cancer. And purple corn, though difficult to find, may have particularly potent cancer-fighting power. In research by Monica Giusti, PhD, purple corn showed significant blockage of colon cancer cells.

Good for Your Brain — A 2003 study published in the Archives of Pharmacal Research showed the memory-enhancing effects of eating purple sweet potatoes. Other research points to the ability of anthocyanins to help prevent age-related decline in the nervous system. And anthocyanins are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and localize inside brain regions involved in learning and memory.

Researchers haven’t focused on anthocyanins as much as other flavonoids, so even more benefits could be found.

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