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The Color Purple: A Disease Fighter

The Color Purple: A Disease Fighter

Blackberries contain anthocyanins, which may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Janet Helm | Chicago Tribune

Purple is not simply a popular trend in fashion. This color of royalty, dubbed the “new black” by fashionistas, is also the new black in food.

In produce aisles, at farmers markets and on restaurant menus, you can now find a growing array of heirloom and specialty vegetables with a distinctive purple hue—purple potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, beans, corn, asparagus, peppers, baby artichokes and cauliflower.

“I’m a huge fan of purple,” said Chicago chef Rick Tramonto, who features purple potatoes and purple cauliflower on the menu at Tru. “I love the color and texture; there is more earth to it.”

Beyond the pleasing appearance on the plate, the purple color is a cue for nutritional power.

The dark pigments responsible for the purplish tones are called anthocyanins, a type of phytonutrient, or plant compound, hailed for its potential disease-fighting benefits. Studies suggest anthocyanins may help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Some evidence indicates these purple pigments may protect our brain as we age.

Anthocyanins belong to the flavonoids family of plant compounds. They are among the most potent of all phytonutrients and have gained the attention of scientists worldwide.

“If I could only eat one color per day, it would be purple,” said James Joseph, a neuroscientist at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and co-author of “The Color Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health.” “There is more data on purple than any other color right now.”

The most concentrated natural sources of anthocyanins are blue and red fruits, including blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, Concord grapes and lesser known berries such as chokeberries, elderberries and bilberries.