by ELY BONNER
Anthocyanins are the pigments that give some of our neglected vegetables, such as beetroot, eggplant, red cabbage, radish and radicchio, their deep red and purple colours. Found also in berries, grapes, plums, red apples, red pears and rhubarbs. These plant chemicals are hard workers, acting as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and antibacterials against a range of common diseases.
One good effect is to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by helping to control clot formation and high blood pressure. CSIRO researches at Food Science Australia have extracted natural food colouring from purple sweet potato with the potential to not only to replace synthetic colouring, but to add extra health benefits to foods too. It is common to hear the expression “eat your greens and orange vegetables” but seldom reds and purples don’t get the same inducement. Studies suggest that cranberry juice has an anti-bacterial effect that helps reduce urinary tract infections by keeping E. coli. off the bladder wall. There is also evidence that sour cherries may have an anti-inflammatory effect that helps arthritis sufferers. Anthocyanins may have the ability to reverse some of the effects of ageing on the brain, thought to be caused by free radicals. A test to measure a food’s antioxidant ability to fight free radicals, blueberries ranked the highest, with prunes, raisins, blackberries and strawberries close behind. There is also some evidence that blueberries may improve balance and coordination, while both blueberries and strawberries may improve memory. Raspberries and strawberries also contain ellagic acid which boost the effectiveness of some of the body’s detoxifying enzymes. Tomatoes, like pink fruits such as watermelon, pink grapefruit and guava are high in lycopene, the antioxidant that may protect against prostrate, breast, lung and cervical cancer, as well as helping prevent “bad” LDL cholesterol oxidising and sticking to artery walls. Lycopene in cooked tomatoes and tomato based products (paste etc) is better absorbed if it is cooked especially with olive oil.
Some ways to increase intake:
1. Stock up with berries (frozen are fine) for fast dessert.
2. Roast thin slices of purple sweet potato, drizzled with olive oil. Toss in salads.
3. Shred red cabbage and toss with cider vinegar, olive oil and black pepper.
4. Add thin slices of baby eggplant to a stir-fry.
5. Use red onions instead of brown.
6. Snack on raisins and prunes- dried red grapes and plums contain concentrated antioxidants.
7. Stir blueberries or raspberries into warm porridge or add to breakfast cereal.