Red, orange, yellow, purple and blue-striking colors found in fruits, vegetables and flowers are more than splashes of colors. They are pigments that contain a powerful group of plant polyphenols called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins constitute one of the largest water-soluble pigments of the plant kingdom and broadly belong to a family of compounds known as flavonoids. To date, over 300 structurally distinct anthocyanins have been identified in nature and they are reputedly more powerful antioxidants than Vitamin E.
Considerable scientific evidences have shown that anthocyanins have preventive and therapeutic roles in a number of human diseases. From enhancing night vision, preventing cancer to arresting coronary health diseases, anthocyanins are potent means to live healthier and better. You need look no further than your own backyard garden or grocery stores to harness the healing powers of anthocyanins.
Here are specific examples of anthocyanins:
Bilberries and blueberries are resplendent in shades of blue and chocked full of anthocyanins. While bilberry is traditionally a wild fruit, we are more familiar with the widely cultivated blueberries. However, from a food and herbal perspective, both are virtually identical. From the time that British RAF pilots accidentally discovered that bilberry can improve night vision, many more studies have revealed other amazing qualities: Bilberry can hasten the regeneration of visual pigment found in the rods of the retina, known to enhance night vision. In addition, bilberry can control circulatory disorders, especially where fine blood vessels are involved.
Blueberries lovers will be happy to know that recent studies show that blueberry can reduce effects of mental aging. It is found that blueberries show most promise in penetrating cells and providing deep antioxidant protection against the devastating effects of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, both associated with brain oxidation.
An even more recent study, presented at the Experimental Biology 2009, found that rats fed on blueberries has less abdominal fat, lower cholesterol, improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity after 90 days. The benefits are far-reaching and have great implications for those suffering from coronary heart diseases, diabetes, and even excess belly fat.
Red, Orange and Yellow Pigments
Red grapes, orange cantaloupe, yellow squash-these are just a few examples of a whole array of vegetables and fruits within this broad category of pigments known as carotenoids, known to protect humans against certain cancers, heart disease and age-related macular degeneration.
This warm side of the color spectrum includes sub-groups of carotenoids:
1. Alpha-carotene: carrots, winter squash, tomatoes, green beans, cilantro and Swiss chard.
Alpha-carotene is the most abundant of all carotenoids in a healthy diet. It can protect cells against the damaging effects of free radicals, boosts the immune system and can be converted to Vitamin A by the body (pro-Vitamin A carotenoid).
2. Beta-Carotene: includes leafy green and yellow vegetables such as broccoli, sweet potato, pumpkin, cantaloupes, apricots and carrots.
Closely related to alpha-carotene, the body converts beta-carotene into retinol, one of the most usable and active forms of Vitamin A. Eating foods high in beta-carotene can help to prevent eye-related problems, particularly night blindness and skin disorders. In addition, it strengthens the immune system and protects against toxins and cancer formations.
3. Beta-cryptoxanthin: citrus fruits, peaches, apricots, bell peppers, papaya, cilantro, corn and watermelon.
Another pro-vitamin A carotenoid, Beta-cryptoxanthin is a potent antioxidant. Researches reveal that beta-cryptoxanthin may reduce risks of lung cancer and inflammatory polyarthritis.
4. Lutein: leafy greens such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, squash and carrots.
Lutein is present in the retina of eyes, and is necessary for good vision. It follows that a diet rich in lutein can lower risks of cataracts and macular degeneration. It may also stall atherosclerosis, a major factor in cardiovascular diseases.
5. Lycopene: all tomato products, pink grapefruits, watermelon, guava
Eating foods rich in lycopene can help lower risks of prostrate cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Various studies suggest that lycopene is better absorbed (up to 2.5 x better) in tomato paste than fresh tomatoes. Adding olive oil to fresh tomatoes improves lycopene absorption.
A report from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources suggests that this particular pigment may benefit bone health, which is good news for those concerned with osteoporosis. New evidences also show that lycopene may improve fertility in men.
6. Zeaxanthin: Green vegetables, eggs and citrus
Lutein and zeaxanthin are both components of the macular pigment of the retina. Zeaxanthin is a natural fat-soluble yellow pigment found in plants, algae and some animal produce. It plays a pivotal role in promoting eye health, particularly in preventing macular degeneration. Taking foods rich in zeaxanthin can reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases, strokes and cancer.
The health benefits of eating from a wide spectrum of colored fruits and vegetables cannot be more exaggerated. In an effort to tap into the power of anthocyanins to boost health, scientists in Europe have genetically infused certain genes of snapdragons into tomatoes to produce a dark purple shade of tomatoes that are far richer in anthocyanins than the regular red tomato. They tested these genetically enhanced tomatoes on cancer-prone mice and found that those fed on purple tomato powder have a more increased life span than those fed on regular red tomato powder.
Garner the health-boosting benefits of anthocyanins by treating yourself to a wide selection of colorful fruits and vegetables. Not only are they beautiful to look at, most of the above mentioned fruits and vegetables are delicious as well.