It’s no secret ‘eating the rainbow’ is good for you as it encourages consuming a variety of micronutrients — vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Doing so is key for staying healthy and warding off disease. However, some colors are easier to find than others. While less abundant in the produce aisle, purple foods offer a unique array of phytochemicals and health benefits.
WHAT MAKES PURPLE FOOD PURPLE
A group of phytochemicals called anthocyanins give red, blue and purple foods their unique color. Studies suggest anthocyanins have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties in addition to imparting color. Moreover, emerging research suggests anthocyanins may help improve blood vessel function, blood sugar levels and cholesterol — all of which impact heart disease risk.
7 HEALTHY PURPLE FOODS TO TRY
Anyone who has accidentally smashed a blueberry into a white shirt knows blueberries are closer to purple than blue. Blueberries have long been dubbed a superfruit and provide fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese, as well as anthocyanins. Small studies suggest bioactive compounds in blueberries may help reduce blood sugar, blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels. In addition, cellular studies show blueberries may benefit eyes and bones and suppress tumor growth.
Forbidden rice is sometimes called black rice, but it’s actually a deep purple color. It has a similar nutrition profile to brown rice, with slightly more protein and fiber, as well as anthocyanins. Much like brown rice, forbidden rice is a whole grain with a nutty, earthy flavor, and it makes a great fiber-rich accompaniment to stir-fries and curries. Population studies show eating a diet rich in whole grains is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer.
Purple cabbage (aka red cabbage) is a cruciferous vegetable that belongs to the same family as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale. Cruciferous veggies contain a group of compounds called glucosinolates, which have been shown to help deactivate carcinogens and decrease inflammation in laboratory studies. In addition, purple cabbage is loaded with vitamins A, C and K, which support immunity, blood clotting, wound healing and vision.
Try it: Add shredded purple cabbage to salads or tacos for extra crunch (and nutrition).
Purple cauliflower is part of the same family as red cabbage and is similarly loaded with inflammation-fighting glucosinolates. Furthermore, 1 cup (150g) of cauliflower provides 77% of the daily recommendation for vitamin C, 2.5g of filling fiber and more than 10% of the daily recommended intake for vitamin K, folate and vitamin B6.
Try it: Use pureed purple cauliflower as a colorful alternative to mashed potatoes or roast it with ginger and miso for a savory side dish.
Several varieties of seaweed have a purple-ish hue, however, red dulse is probably the most common. It can be eaten fresh, cooked or dried and turned into flakes or powder. It has an umami flavor. Dulse is naturally rich in iodine, iron, potassium and vitamin B6.
Try it: Add dulse to soups, salads and stir-fries for a savory kick.
Purple sweet potatoes have a drier, starchier flesh than their orange counterparts and come in two different varieties: Okinawan (white skin) and Stokes (purple skin). Like regular sweet potatoes, purple ones offer fiber, potassium, B-vitamins, vitamin C, potassium and manganese, which assist with cholesterol control, blood pressure regulation and immune function, among other things.
Try it: Use purple sweet potatoes instead of orange ones in breakfast hash, enchiladas, soup and more.
The skins of red grapes contain resveratrol, a polyphenol well-known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies on concord grape juice suggest the unique combination of phytochemicals may help support brain health and cognitive function in some people. That said, concord grape juice is on the sweeter side and can spike blood sugar in some, so portion control is important.
Try it: Roast sausages with grapes for a sweet-savory dish or pair grapes with string cheese for a satisfying snack.