Anthocyanins: Powerful Antioxidants to Promote Health

Copyright @ Angeline Oppenheimer

Most people use a color chart to pick color coordinates to decorate their homes. Women pick colors to accentuate their beauty and style. Why not use a color chart when picking out foods to maximize health benefits? Nature has endowed fruits, vegetables and flowers with striking shades of vibrant colors and for good reasons. These bright colors assist plant species in their pollination process and also to protect them from the harsh effects of ultra-violet rays. These pigments are the result of a group of biochemical compounds known as anthocyanins.

Colors of Health
Colors of Health

What are anthocyanins?  They are a subset of a larger group of plant polyphenols, the flavonoids.  Over 300 structurally distinct anthocyanins have been identified and they are responsible for such colors as red, orange, yellow, blue, purple or black. Next to chlorophyll, they are the most important group of plant pigments that are visible to the human eye.   Some of the mentioned vegetables and fruits have pigments beneath the green chlorophyll like spinach, chard and cilantro.

Considerable evidences show that dietary anthocyanin pigments and polyphenols may have preventive and therapeutic roles in a number of human diseases.   They are great antioxidants, scavenging the body for free radicals and crippling their capacity for cellular damage.  They make natural anti-inflammatory agents:  they combat the stresses of aging and improve cardiovascular and brain function.  Many studies show they are good cancer-fighters as well.

Colors of Health

Shades of Blue

The power of blue is abundant in bilberry and blueberries. Bilberry is a wild species while we are more familiar with the cultivated blueberries. Researches have found that bilberry can enhance night vision as well as assist circulatory disorders, especially where fine capillaries are involved.

Most people spend tons of money on take anti-aging supplements and even more on anti-aging cream. What if you can eat your way to a younger you? Recent researches show blueberries can reverse the negative effects of aging. How? Researchers found that anthocyanins in blueberries showed most activity in penetrating cells and providing antioxidant protection. These findings have huge implications for those suffering from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, both associated with brain oxidation.

There is even more good news for those who enjoy blueberries: A recent study presented at the Experimental Biology 2009, cited that rats fed on blueberries had less abdominal fat, lower cholesterol, and improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity after 90 days.


Purple corn, eggplant, purple grapes—be sure to include some of these selections in your daily diet.  Anthocyanins found in purple corn take the spot for being the most potent in inhibiting the growth of colon cancer cells with a whopping scale of G150 value of 14 micrograms per milliliter.

Anthocyanins found in eggplant contain a derivative of anthocyanin, which interferes with a dangerous form of oxidants in the body, protecting the body from oxidative damage.

What about the deep purple Acai berry? It has 30% more anthocyanins than red wine, without the alcohol.  Various studies show that acai berry is useful in curtailing colon cancer, lower cholesterol, and preventing capillary damage.  It also contains cyaniding 3-glucoside (an anthocyanin) that can reverse age-related neurological deficits.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tested the various capacities of different berries to protect against oxidative damage and blackberries took the prize with the highest level of anthocyanins.

Red, Orange and Yellow Pigments

This warm side of the color spectrum falls under a broad category of pigments called the carotenoids. They are powerful health guardians, reported to offer cancer protection, improve brain function and promote heart health.


Love a splash of red to bring out the color of your lips? Red is the color of health with a wide selection of fruits and vegetables from red cabbage to little red goji berries. Resveratrol, the pigment found in grape skin is all the rage now; with claims from turning back the clock to preventing cardiovascular diseases.

If you see goji berries popping up in health stores in the form of snacks or toss into trail mix, here is the reason. The petite goji berries are rich in two specific carotenoids, namely, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin (also found in citrus fruits) plays a crucial role in protecting the retina of the eye by absorbing blue light and acting as an antioxidant. This superfood, long used by the Chinese, Tibetans and Indians are also known to decrease risks of developing age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in people over 65.

Rosy tomatoes don’t just make good salads and the indispensible spaghetti sauce, they make healthy treats. Their secret health pigment? Lycopene. This red pigment fights prostate cancer and cardiovascular diseases. A report from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources suggests that Lycopene may benefit bone health and improve fertility in men.

Take your pick: red apples, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries.

Orange and Yellow

From oranges to pumpkin to the common carrots, the orange pigment is full of carotenoids. For instance, carrots contain alpha-carotene, also found in winter squash, green beans, cilantro and Swiss chard, that can protect cells against the damaging effects of free radicals, boosts the immune system and can be readily converted to Vitamin A.

Other delights like peaches and apricots contain another famous carotenoid, Beta-cryptoxanthin, a powerful antioxidant. Researches reveal that beta-cryptoxanthin may reduce risks of lung cancer and inflammatory polyarthritis.

Enjoy nature’s colorful selection of fruits and vegetables. Eat from a wide spectrum and stay in the pink of health.


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Comments 21 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Anglnwu, this a very interesting treatment of the health benefits of visible pigments in fruits and vegetables. However, is color always indicative of different health benefits? If I eat a red apple, is the the nutritional benefit to me very different from that I would get from a green apple?

ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 7 years ago from USA

Hi, I'm back for a while!

Interesting information. I didn't check it much, but I've heard an opinion that green color is the most healthy. I mean, vegetables and fruits of green color have the most goodies. When my son was little his pediatrician told me to feed him only green apples, as they were less allergenic than red ones.

Anyway, what is for sure, we have to make our food colorful.

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

That's a very interesting question, Aya Katz. As far as I know, there are some 300 different types of anthocyanins (maybe more) and certain fruits and vegetables may contain more than 1 particular anthocyanins--for example, carrots have lutein and beta-carotene amongst other nutrients.

As for the green versus red apple question--here's my understanding. The gene for anthocyanins in green apples are not as expressed as that for red apples. Also, anthocyanins respond to light--apple trees grown in deep shade have green-colored apples. Thanks for visiting.

ReuVera, so glad to hear from you again. I really missed you. Yes, green is very healthy too-- a lot of vegetables like spinach, kale and turnip greens are full of anthocyanins too, particularly lutein, but they appear green because the chlorophyll is hiding the pigment. Green vegetables also contain zeaxanthin, very good for eye health.

Thanks for dropping by--will see you on fb.

Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 7 years ago from MA, USA

Anthocyanins, now that's a new word for me.  Looks like the winner among the berries is the blackberry with the highest levels of anthocyanins.  But you can't go wrong with any berry.  Just look at the good news of the  blueberry, less abdominal fat, lower cholesterol, and improved glucose control.  Can you tell I love berries?  I'm taking notes for my next food shopping trip.  Great hub.



anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Berry crazy about berries?---so am I. Good thing they are so good for us. Thanks for visiting my hub and have a great summer!

Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 7 years ago from MA, USA

You're welcome and you have a great summer too!

Charia Samher profile image

Charia Samher 7 years ago

anthocyanin.. polyphenols... very hard to pronounce at first but sure is very helpful! I love eggplant, but I never thought I am getting something good from it. I have learned a lot from this. Thanks! =)

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Charia, my dear friend, it;s good to hear from u again.

Yes, I love eggplant too. How do you make yours? I make mine with curry powder or steam it, then add soya sauce, a touch of sugar and sesame oil.

I should be off to visiting your hubs--it's just that it's summer here and it's not terribly condusive for any kind of serious working.

Charia Samher profile image

Charia Samher 7 years ago

Yes, I've been to the moon and back haha kidding! I just took some days off from hubbing haha! My eggplant, nothing ordinary, most of the time I just fried it or sometimes put some ground beef with beaten egg, yum yum yum! It's raining here right now hehe!

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Yes, it's nice to take "moon" trips and forget about the reality of Earth and its demands. Ever wonder what is like, for instance? -- the once Queen of China, who was banished to Moon forever and only appear once a year? No, definitely, not that kind of escapade, but it's nice to get away, every now and then.

You can't go wrong with eggplant and yours sounds like a winner. Stir-fry eggplants and some nice fluffy rice--yum!

Charia Samher profile image

Charia Samher 7 years ago

oh what I mean is nothing extraordinary, haha I don't want to say that may eggplant is special hehe, because that's the usual way of doing our eggplant here..hahaha!

Oh really so the Queen of China appears only once in a blue moon, hehe!

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Very interesting! I confess I'd never given the word anthocyanins any thought. Eggplant, blueberries, and acai berries are high on my blue list.

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Charia, it's all "tongue in cheek"?, not that eggplant should be taken lightly. And yes, the Chinese actually celebrate the appearance of the Imperial Lady once a year on the Mooncake Festival--haha--

Jerilee Wee, thanks for visiting. Glad you're already into the color thing. All the colors of nature's offering--what an appetizing and easy way to whip our health into shape. God's special treats!

Melody Lagrimas profile image

Melody Lagrimas 7 years ago from Philippines

Anthocyanins indeed are very beneficial to health. Very interesting hub.

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Thanks, Melody for your kind comments. Since you're somewhat of a health expert, thanks for the heads up.

celeBritys4africA profile image

celeBritys4africA 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

5 stars article.

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Thanks, celeBrity4africa.

skye 5 years ago

Sister another superb hub. I am so grateful I came over tonight There are bo mistakes in Gods world. I was suppose to be here. I have bookmarked linked out and I thank you for such beautful work. Hugs friend. Love ya.

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

I agree, skye, God's provided us with everything for healthy living. Love you .

Rachael 5 years ago

There’s another superfood you should know about called the Aroniaberry (chokeberry). It is native to North America and contains one of the highest levels of antioxidants – anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins of any fruit. These powerful berries have been utilized for years because of their overall health and wellness benefits. Learn more at

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Thanks, Rachel, for the heads up on Aroniaberry. I'm going to research it and maybe do a hub on it. Thanks for website--will check it out.

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