I saw a great programme this week from the BBC – “How to Stay Young”.  They investigate all sorts of experiments and research from across the world to see what we can do to support a healthy ageing process.  

One thing that I found fascinating was an investigation into the Okinawa purple sweet potato.  The Okinawa area of Japan has one of the highest proportions of centenarians in the world, so they must be doing something right.   Whilst there are many factors involved in why they live so long, they also happen to eat large quantities of this purple sweet potato.  So why did I find this so interesting?

Any fruit or vegetable that is red / purple / blue is rich in a compound called anthocyanin.  Anthocyanin’s are one of the many tiny plant chemicals – or phytochemicals that are found in various plant foods.  We have hardly begun to understand how important these are for health or what in fact they really do in the body.

We think that they have important antioxidant qualities, so can help prevent damage at a cellular level, but there is probably more to it than that.  Reseach is still on going to discover their other benefits.

However what we do know is that these purple pigments have been shown to support heart health and cognitive function

Heart health: in a large study of nearly 94 thousand Nurses were followed for 18 years.  Those who consumed 3 or more portions of blueberries and strawberries per week had a 34% low risk of heart attack than those who didn’t (1)

Cognitive function: research has shown these compounds such as anthrocyanin’s can improve memory and help prevent age-related deterioration in mental function (2)

Which fruit and vegetables are highest in anthocyanin’s?

  1. Berries: blueberries, blackberries, black current, raspberry, cranberry, acai, red current
  2. Cherries
  3. Purple grapes
  4. Pomegranate
  5. Aubergine
  6. Red radish
  7. Red cabbage
  8. Plums
  9. Figs
  10. Purple endive

How to incorporate more anthocyanin’s into your diet: 

  1. Red cabbage: is not just for Christmas.  Try shredding and adding to your salads or homemade slaw.
  2. Swap to red onions instead of white (although they have their health benefits too)
  3. Berries: add a handful to your daily regime – great on cereal or added to yoghurt. 
  4. Look out for the more exotic vegetables in your farmers market: purple carrots, purple potatoes, purple cauliflower or purple broccoli.

So as part of eating a rainbow of colour – don’t forget the purple!

Check out my blackberry raw flax porridge recipes

(1) High Anthocyanin Intake Is Associated With a Reduced Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Young and Middle-Aged Women Aedín Cassidy, PhD; Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD; Lydia Liu, MSc; Mary Franz, MSc; A. Heather Eliassen, ScD; Eric B. Rimm, ScD 2013 Jan 15;127(2):188-96. 
(2) Flavonoids and the brain: interactions at the blood-brain barrier and their physiological effects on the central nervous system. Youdim KA, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph JA. Free Radic Biol Med. 2004 Dec 1;37(11):1683-93.