Purple Reigns as Nutrition Royalty

March 28, 2017

By Debbie Herbst, RD, LD, CDE
Mercy Hospital Carthage

Purple fruits and vegetables aren’t just pretty, they’re also are powerhouses of nutrition. What exactly are the nutrition benefits? What and how do you eat those foods?

The purple color comes from natural plant chemicals called anthocyanins. The term comes from the Greek words anthos, which means flower, and kuanos, which means blue.

Anthocyanins have many health benefits, including lowering cholesterol levels and lowering blood clotting. A large research study, the Framingham Offspring Cohort, showed that participants who ate foods high in anthocyanins had lower levels of inflammatory chemicals and markers of oxidative stress. In turn, these lower levels have been related to reducing heart disease, arthritis and certain cancers.

Anthocyanins have been linked to lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol and to improving insulin sensitivity, which helps with blood sugar control. Intake of anthocyanins has been shown to improve eyesight and brain function.

Wow! That purple color really does have royal benefits.

How do you eat more anthocyanins? Fruits that are anthocyanin-rich are red grapes, blueberries, elderberries, blackberries, plums and figs, many of which are tasty to eat as snacks or to make into fruit salads or toss with green salads.

Vegetables that are anthocyanin-rich are red (purple) cabbage, eggplant and red onion. Purple cabbage can be used in slaw or tossed with other salad ingredients or sautéed with olive oil.

When cooking eggplant, do not peel the skin because that is where anthocyanins are found. Eggplant is tasty when roasted or served as eggplant parmesan.

Be aware that boiling any purple food will destroy a lot of the health benefits.

How about purple carrots, purple potatoes and blue corn? All are becoming more readily available in grocery stores.

Purple was the original color of carrots, which spread from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean and Western Europe in the 11th to 14th centuries. In the 1700s, the Dutch started breeding carrots to cultivate the orange color that we have now.

Purple potatoes have been around for centuries. In Peru, there is a wide range of shapes and colors such as purple and blue that grow naturally. Purple corn has been cultivated in Latin American for hundreds of years.

With all the wonderful health benefits of purple fruits and vegetables, try common foods and venture out to new food horizons. Who knows? Some day you may love purple mashed potatoes. Your health will give you a royal thank you.

1 small eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (not peeled)
1 onion, cut into eighths
1 cup chopped green or yellow pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chopped tomatoes

Preheat oven to 400 F. In large bowl, mix vegetables, except tomatoes, with garlic and seasonings. Spray 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes and return to oven for 5 minutes.

Makes 4 cups.

Mercy clinical nutrition dietitians at Mercy Hospital Carthage on the McCune-Brooks Campus, 3125 Dr. Russell Smith Way, can be reached at 417-359-1359.

Watch Debbie provide examples of purple fruits and vegetables here.