Anthocyanins are natural pigments with health promoting properties and are responsible for the red, purple or blue colouring in fruits and vegetables.
Anthocyanins are flavonoids with potent antioxidant properties. It is believed that the antioxidants in anthocyanins gives them anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer), and cardio-protective functions, as well as potential obesity and diabetes controlling mechanisms.
Although research in this area is ongoing, to date a number of large and long duration studies, such as the ‘Nurses’ Health studies’ 1 & 2’ and the ‘Health Professionals Follow-up Study’, found that individuals with a higher intake of anthocyanin-rich foods had reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease. These studies examined thousands of women and men for 18 and 14 years respectively.
Twin studies also found that consuming one to two serves of anthocyanin-rich foods each day, reduced blood pressure and cardiovascular risk.
Laboratory and animal studies have found that anthocyanins and anthocyanin-rich extracts have anti-carcinogenic functions, and anti-inflammatory effects. They have been shown to induce cancer cell death, reduce cancer cell proliferation, and inhibit the development and progression of colon, lung, oesophageal, and skin cancers.
In humans, smaller studies undertaken with cancer patients given concentrations of these pigments for a period of time, showed reduction in size and proliferation of cancer cells. However, these studies involved only a small number of participants. It is yet to be determined whether these benefits could be produced on a large number of people or generalised, and requires more research.
In animal studies, anti-inflammatory properties that work directly on the brain, have demonstrated a reduction in age-related cognitive decline and improved working memory.
These anti-inflammatory properties may also offer benefits for the control of obesity and diabetes. However, the fruits and vegetables rich in anthocyanins are also high in fibre and other nutrients, which are proven to be beneficial in controlling these conditions.
There is also some evidence that anthocyanins, specifically from berries, have antimicrobial effects.
Take home message:
Although research on this topic is still very active, there is some amazing health benefits that can be achieved by including anthocyanin-rich foods in your daily diet.
Foods rich in Anthocyanins include:
Purple sweet potato
YOU can simply:
§ Add frozen berries to your morning smoothie
§ Add fresh berries to your muesli or ricotta and honey toast
§ Have a cup of red grape juice with your lunch
§ Add pomegranate to your salad
§ Include purple onion, purple cabbage, or eggplant with your dinner
Be creative! Live well!
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”