Are Purple Foods Healthier? Unexpected Purple Foods

Holli Ryan RD, LD/N

Many foods including fruits, vegetables, and even some grains, are purple in color are due to naturally occurring pigments called anthocyanidins. Anthocyanidins are polyphenol flavonoids that act as antioxidants in the body. Anthocyanin and cyanidin are two types of anthocyanidins that give foods their purple color.



Since the nomenclature can get a bit confusing, here is the flow: Phytonutrients > Polyphenols > Flavonoids > Anthocyanidin > Anthocyanin.

You’ve heard of “going green,” but maybe it’s time to “go purple,” too! According to an August 2017 study in the Journal Food & Nutrition Research, anthocyanins have antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-obesity effects, and they also maintain cardiovascular health.1

When you think of purple foods, purple grapes or purple cabbage may come to mind. We are used to having a choice of colors with foods such as grapes or cabbage, but when it comes to the seven foods listed below, it’s not as commonly known that there purple varieties are available.

7 Common Foods You Didn’t Know Were Available in Purple

Rice


Purple rice is commonly referred to as black rice. The uncooked grain appears to be black, but upon cooking it becomes deep purple in color. Purple rice should not be confused with wild rice, which is blackish-brown in color. Sometimes called “forbidden rice,” purple or black rice is rich in anthocyanins.

Potato


Depending on the variety, the purple potato may or may not be sweet. Here are a couple of research snippets that may be of interest: One study showed that purple sweet potatoes are 3.2 times higher in antioxidant activity than blueberries.2 Another study showed that purple potatoes are protective against acetaminophen-induced liver toxicity in mice.3

Tea


Purple tea is grown at high elevations of 6,000 plus feet, where cooler conditions are present, and in close proximity to the equator, where intense ultraviolet light causes the plant to produce protective anthocyanins. Yes, plants produce these compounds to protect themselves, and then we consume the plant and receive the same protective properties. Nature is amazing!

Cauliflower


Cruciferous vegetables such as purple or white cauliflower are rich in sulfur-containing compounds such as glucosinolates, which, among other benefits, have powerful system-wide anti-inflammatory effects.4 The purple variation, of course, adds the anthocyanin antioxidant.

Carrots


An article in a scientific journal suggests that a tri-colored carrot that included purple may be our healthiest bet. The article explains that the most novel carrot produced to date is an orange–purple–red variety, which contains provitamin A activity as α‐and β-carotene, as well as anthocyanins and lycopene, which are powerful antioxidants.”5

Corn


Purple corn is commonly referred to as blue corn. Like the purple sweet potato discussed above, purple corn was also found to have a higher antioxidant capacity when compared to blueberries.6

Related Article: Is Blue Corn Healthy?

Asparagus



According to a specialty produce resource, purple asparagus has a twenty percent higher sugar content than other asparagus varieties. This may sound like a deterrent, but the anthocyanin pigment has been shown to improve glycemic control.7,8

Here are even more foods that contain anthocyanins!

The Bottom Line

One inconvenience is that these purple foods may not be as readily available in all stores as their non-purple counterparts. You may need to check specialty stores and markets, but it’s worth it. The purple pigment equates to added benefits for our health in the form of greater antioxidant value.

The celebrity Mariah Carey has been reported to be following a “purple foods diet”.9 This is something I would not suggest, since it’s important to “eat the rainbow”. Each color/pigment offers its own nutritional benefits, so you’ll want to include a variety of naturally colorful foods in your diet, too – not just the purple ones!

So, back to our original question: Are purple foods healthier? When it comes to rice and potato, I am inclined to say yes. But it also may depend on the specific type of food. For example, orange carrots and green asparagus are still up to par when it comes to nutrient density: the orange pigment offers us beta-carotene, while green veggies provide chlorophyll.



About the author: Holli (Lapes) Ryan RD, LD/N is a Social Media Content Specialist at Life Extension. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist residing in the South Florida area. Holli believes that quality dietary supplements are an essential tool that have a variety of applications from maintaining good health to managing chronic disease. 






References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5613902/
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284348777_Bioactive_and_functional_properties_of_purple_sweetpotato_ipomoea_batatas_l_lam
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19459732
  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40495-015-0017-y
  5. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2009.001https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12744660
  6. http://www.specialtyproduce.com/produce/Purple_Asparagus_471.php
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28916569
  8. https://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/i-tried-mariah-carey-s-purple-foods-only-diet-so-you-don-t-have-to

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