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Anthocyanins are a specific class of plant compounds—the purple, red, and blue pigments in such plants as berries, grapes, plums, red cabbage, and red onions. The highest concentrations of these anthocyanins are found in aronia berries and elderberries, followed by black raspberries, blueberries (especially the smaller “wild” varieties), and blackberries. The cheapest source, though, is probably red cabbage.

In fact, while greens are the healthiest vegetables, berries are the healthiest fruits—in part due to their respective plant pigments. Leaves contain the green pigment chlorophyll, which sets off the firestorm of photosynthesis, so greens have to be packed with antioxidants to deal with the charged high-energy electrons that are formed. Meanwhile, berries evolved to have bright, contrasting colors to attract fruit-eating critters to help disperse their seeds. And the same molecular characteristics that give berries such vibrant colors may account for some of their antioxidant abilities.

Indeed, colorful foods are often healthier because they contain antioxidant pigments, whether it’s the beta- carotene that makes carrots and sweet potatoes orange, the lycopene antioxidant pigment that makes tomatoes red, or the anthocyanin pigments that make blueberries blue. The colors are the antioxidants.

Muscle biopsies of athletes have confirmed that eating blueberries, for example, can significantly reduce exercise-induced inflammation. Studies using cherries show that this anti-inflammatory effect can translate into faster recovery time, and the muscle-soothing effects of berries don’t only work for weight lifters; follow-up studies have shown that cherries can also help reduce muscle pain in long-distance runners and aid in recovery from marathons.

My Daily Dozen recommends one serving a day of berries and three servings a day of other fruit, such as black plums.

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