With spring comes the fruits and vegetables on the outer spectrum of the rainbow — the reds, blues, and purples. These rich pigments most commonly found in berries are from the compounds anthocyanins. Also found in red wine, eggplants and red cabbage, these plants produce anthocyanins as a protective mechanism against environmental stressors.
More recently the specific pharmacological properties of these compounds have been isolated and studied in animals and humans and suggest that anthocyanins may play a role in helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cognitive decline, and cancer. Known for years because of their antioxidant properties, current research suggests the health benefits are likely the result from unidentified chemical properties and phytochemicals.
Several studies have found an association between the consumption of anthocyanin-rich foods and decreased risk of CVD, in part, due to a reduction in arterial stiffness and central systolic blood pressure. Production of metabolites by gut microflora may decrease inflammatory markers associated with increased CVD.
More promising is the anti-carcinogenic activities found in cell culture and in animal studies due to anthocyanins and their rich extracts. They not only act as antioxidants, but also activate detoxifying enzymes, prevent cancer cell proliferation, induce cancer cell death, prevent cancer cell invasion, and induce differentiation.
Although human studies have been less promising, animal studies on anthocyanins inhibit cancer development in animals given carcinogens. In cell culture, anthocyanins from a purple sweet potato stopped the reproduction of colon cancer cells and initiated cancer cell death.
With regard to cognitive function, research suggests that flavonoids, including anthocyanins, have the ability to enhance memory and help prevent age-related declines in mental functioning. Several other studies have found that berries, most notably blueberries, which are rich in anthocyanins, can effectively reverse age-related deficits in certain aspects of working memory.
Ximena Jimenez, MS, RDN, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that while anthocyanins haven’t reached star status yet, consumers are starting to hear more about them.
“Aim for three or more servings per week. Start your day with blueberries or blackberries, grape juice for lunch, and add eggplant, purple cauliflower, or purple onions to your favorite recipes,” Jimenez said.
So the next time you’re at one of our local farmers’ markets pick up a basket of berries and try this refreshing spring salad loaded with antioxidants and flavor or pair this raspberry vinaigrette with your favorite greens.
The Better Option spinach salad
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound baby spinach
1/2 cup strawberries, thinly sliced
1/2 cup blueberries
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
In a large bowl, whisk together shallot and vinegar. While whisking constantly, drizzle in oil to make vinaigrette. Add spinach, strawberries, pecans and goat cheese and gently toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 180 calories, 13g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 5mg cholesterol, 140mg sodium, 11g carbohydrate (4g dietary fiber, 2g sugar), 6g protein
When fresh is not available try:
The Better Option raspberry vinaigrette
1/2 cup unsweetened frozen raspberries, thawed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the raspberries, olive oil, vinegar, and honey in a blender. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. Learn more at www.eatwelldailynutrition.com.