Thanks to an oft-used emoji, aubergines are more likely to crop up in your WhatsApp chats than on your shopping list, but there’s more to that cheeky guy than saucy texts. Along with other purple foods, including red cabbage, purple sprouting and the haskap berry (a superfood from Japan, Russia, Canada - more on that later…) aubergines are packed full of a particular type of antioxidant called anthocyanins. These are found in the pigments (flavonoids) that give purple fruits their rich colour. And it's also the bit that gives purple foods their superior nutritional punch, making them anti-inflammatory and helping to protect against DNA damage.
What do anthocyanins actually do?
Anthocyanins can help to fight the flu, combat inflammation, lower blood pressure and even improve muscle function. They have even been linked to preventing dementia and improving cardiovascular health.
“Anthocyanins are antioxidants that help protect our body from oxidative stress,” confirms nutritionist Sophie Langley who is accredited by the Association of Nutrition and works for health brand Exante.
“Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals (bad things – think toxins) and antioxidants (good things) in your body. Free radicals react with other molecules in your cells, causing direct damage to DNA possibly leading to cancer and dementia. Eating a sufficient amount of antioxidants helps fight the free radicals, bringing your body into a balance and reducing oxidative stress.”
Anthocyanins also have a range of health-promoting effects including being anti-inflammatory (helping protect you from chronic disease), neuroprotective (supporting and energising your brain), cardioprotective and anti-diabetic, so it’s no wonder the nutritional world is taking them seriously.
Which foods contain anthocyanins?
Purple vegetables are often healthier than their non-purple counterparts. Purple potatoes have four times as many antioxidants than normal potatoes while purple carrots have twice a much alpha and beta-carotene (good for eye health) as orange carrots.
Red cabbage is something of a powerhouse (as well as being cheap and gown in the UK) with 36 different types of antioxidants. It’s been shown to have six to eight times more vitamin C than green cabbage too. Aubergines, purple sprouting, blueberries, dark grapes, red onions, blackberries all count too.
What about beetroot? The deep purple colour actually comes from plant chemicals called betalains, rather than anthocyanins, but they do still have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (as well as making your pee pink).
And then there are haskap berries...