This recipe was submitted by Erin Day.

What are phytonutrients?

Phytonutrients have been linked to many health benefits, and there are hundreds of thousands of phytonutrients but today we’ll look at just one type under the microscope–anthocyanins.    Phytonutrients protect plants and are responsible for the bright colors in plant foods like fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins in particular contribute to the blue, red, and violet pigments found in plant foods. 

What are anthocyanins?

Anthocyanins are part of the flavonoid family of phytonutrients, the main ones being cyanidin and malvidin among others. Some foods rich in anthocyanins include acai, blackcurrant, blueberry, bilberry, cherry, red grape, and purple corn. By eating these foods you can increase your body’s anthocyanin levels and receive the various benefits anthocyanins offer. Anthocyanins can affect cardiovascular health, combat cancer, and prevent inflammation. 

Foods high in anthocyanins

Acai is particularly high in cyanidin, an antioxidant anthocyanin. Acai has been used for its astringent and antibacterial activity, lowering the risk of cancer (leukemia), inflammation, diabetes, urinary tract infections, heart disease, and premature aging.   Blackcurrant also contains anthocyanins as well as other phytonutrients such as flavonoids, quercetin, and lignans. The leaves are usually used in teas or as a diuretic to fight arthritis, digestive issues, bleeding gums, and cough. The anthocyanins give blackcurrant its antioxidant and antibacterial activity.    Blueberries act as antioxidants by neutralizing free radicals and preventing diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, ulcers, heart disease, and cancer! That’s quite a lot huh. I don’t know about you but I will definitely be adding more blueberries to my smoothies.     Bilberry is used as an astringent against diarrhea and dysentery. Bilberries have also been used to treat urinary tract infections and kidney stones. They are antimicrobial and antiviral in nature. Bilberry leaves are often used to make tea to treat skin ulcers, diabetes, arthritis, and gout. Not to mention, bilberries can aid in protecting our eyes by preventing cataracts. They also may increase blood circulation.    Grapes are very versatile in that you can eat them whole, or as a delicious juice or wine. Red grapes and wine have antioxidant properties that help reduce cancer and heart disease risk. The leaves have also been used to treat diarrhea, heavy menstrual bleeding, and uterine hemorrhages. Who knew!   As for cherries, you can try sweet or tart–both contain anthocyanins. They provide benefits due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action. The Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology provides that sour cherries may not only make you pucker up but can provide a better, and more natural, anti-inflammatory effect than aspirin. Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO, says that cherries and their juice could be beneficial for conditions like gout, arthritis, muscle injury, diabetes, and neurodegeneration.   Did you know that corn comes in the color purple? I sure didn’t.

Purple corn, purple sweet potato, red cabbage, purple cabbage, purple potatoes, and purple carrots can act as an antioxidants because of the anthocyanins they contain. Clearly we can see a pattern here! The dark anthocyanin pigments here, are what delivers the high antioxidant activity we get from certain fruit and vegetables. In general, the more variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet the higher the nutrition value of your diet.

It has been shown to prevent colon cancer and reduce the number of cancer cells overall, as well as lower the chances of obesity and diabetes. Pu Jimg, M.S., claims whole purple corn actually contains more anthocyanins than fresh blueberries (per 100 g). Finally, red and black raspberries are high in anthocyanins in addition to cumaric acid, ferulic acid, ellagic acid, and more. The leaves are used for any medicinal purposes as an astringent and stimulant. Tea using the leaves has been used to treat throat infections, diarrhea, or just to relax! It has been particularly used by pregnant women to facilitate childbirth and stimulate milk production. How interesting; I’ll definitely be taking note of this for later. The anthocyanins in red raspberries protect against heart disease and mental ageing issues. The roots and leaves of black raspberry have been used to treat digestive problems. An extract of it was shown to inhibit the development of certain cancer cells as well.

 

The Benefits of Anthocyanins 

Besides the use of anthocyanidins and anthocyanins as natural dyes, these colored pigments are potential pharmaceutical ingredients that give various beneficial health effects,” provides The Journal of Food & Nutrition Research. “Scientific studies . . . show that anthocyanidins and anthocyanins possess antioxidative and antimicrobial activities, improve visual and neurological health, and protect against various non-communicable diseases”.   Anthocyanins vary in bioavailability, some can have a high bioavailability and sometimes they have low bioavailability and aren’t very well absorbed. However, anthocyanins with a high bioavailability reduces the risk of many diseases by reducing cellular lipid peroxidation. Anthocyanins’ health benefits are mainly said to be due to their antioxidant activities.    Risk of cardiovascular-related diseases in particular is one disease risk that anthocyanin intake can reduce. Furthermore, anthocyanins have anticancer properties. They are just one phytonutrient that are potential antiangiogenic agents; angiogenesis is when harmless benign tumors transition to harmful malignant ones. Antiangiogenesis prevents oxygen from reaching tumor cells [Ibid].     Anthocyanins also have antidiabetic effects. In one study, diabetic patients who consumed anthocyanin had lower fasting plasma glucose and insulin resistance than those who didn’t [Ibid].    The Journal also says that anthocyanin-rich berries are traditionally known for good eye health. And, bilberry extract prevented photoreceptor cell impairment while retinas were inflamed in mice. Patients with glaucoma who took anthocyanin from bilberry daily experienced improved visual function too, while anthocyanin from blackcurrant increased ocular blood flow [Ibid].   As briefly mentioned, anthocyanin has anti-obesity properties as well. Another study on mice showed that a diet rich in a type of anthocyanin, cyanide, from purple corn can reduce body weight and decrease adipose tissue weights. Like me, you might be asking where can I get myself some purple corn?  Well, it doesn’t stop there! Mice that were fed cherries high in anthocyanins also experienced a decrease in weight gain and lipid accumulation in the liver. It is important to note that some mice were fed isolated anthocyanins but didn’t undergo as significant of a result as those that got anthocyanins from the plant foods themselves [Ibid].    Last but not least, anthocyanins can fortify your immune system! Anthocyanins can combat various microorganisms, especially those from food. They fight these harmful invaders by attacking parts of the cell such as the cell wall or membrane. Anthocyanins can help protect nerve cells from injury and damage too [Ibid]. 

Takeaways

Anthocyanins are naturally occurring compounds in plants and plant foods that have numerous health-promoting properties. We can experience the benefits anthocyanins offer by consuming the food-rich in them such as berries, cherries, grapes, purple corn, and blackcurrant. Anthocyanins don’t only contribute to these foods’ antioxidant, antibacterial, anticancer, anti-obesity, and anti-inflammatory activities but also are responsible for their red to blue hues.    Moreover, anthocyanins are just one of thousands of phytonutrients contained within plant foods. Each providing their own health benefits. For instance, soybeans contain a type of phytoestrogen called isoflavone that may reduce the chances of developing cancer. So be sure to add fruits and veggies to your grocery list. 

Erin Day

Erin Day is a professional writer and former editor who covers all things relating to health, nutrition, and wellness. She contributes to a number of sites including HubPages, Medium, and more. You can see more of her work at erinday.net.

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