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|April 9-15 2009
• The pub abides
The Mountain Sun rises through the times
by Clay Fong
• Add Spanish flair this Passover
by Bill Daley
The color purple: disease fighter
Violet veggies are an excellent shade of health
by Janet Helm
Purple is not simply a popular trend in fashion. This color of royalty, dubbed the “new black” by fashionistas, is also the new black in food.
In produce aisles, at farmers’ markets and on restaurant menus, you can now find a growing array of heirloom and specialty vegetables with a distinctive purple hue — purple potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, beans, corn, asparagus, peppers, baby artichokes and cauliflower.
“I’m a huge fan of purple,” said Chicago chef Rick Tramonto, who features purple potatoes and purple cauliflower on the menu at Tru restaurant. “I love the color and texture; there is more earth to it.”
Beyond the pleasing appearance on the plate, the purple color is a cue for nutritional power.
The dark pigments responsible for the purplish tones are called anthocyanins, a type of phytonutrient, or plant compound, hailed for its potential disease-fighting benefits. Studies suggest anthocyanins may help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Some evidence indicates these purple pigments may protect our brain as we age.
Anthocyanins belong to the flavonoids family of plant compounds. They are among the most potent of all phytonutrients and have gained the attention of scientists worldwide.
“If I could only eat one color per day, it would be purple,” said James Joseph, a neuroscientist at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and co-author of The Color Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health.
“There is more data on purple than any other color right now.”
The most concentrated natural sources of anthocyanins are blue and red fruits, including blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, Concord grapes and lesser known berries such as chokeberries, elderberries and bilberries.
Studies with these deeply hued fruits have shown promising health benefits, but scientists are investigating ways to boost the level of anthocyanins in commonly eaten foods to offer even greater health-promoting potential. Among the findings:
—Researchers in Great Britain used genes from snapdragons to generate higher production of anthocyanins in tomatoes, which resulted in intensely purple tomatoes with anthocyanins levels comparable to blackberries and blueberries. The life span of cancer-susceptible mice was significantly extended when the diet included the purple tomatoes compared with the normal red tomatoes.
—Anthocyanins from purple corn were the most potent in inhibiting the growth of colon cancer cells compared to the other vegetables and fruits evaluated by Ohio State University researchers.
—Rats who ate black raspberries — which are particularly rich in anthocyanins — were 50 percent less prone to developing cancerous tumors in the esophagus. The study, also conducted at Ohio State University, found that the berries helped fight cancer by reducing inflammation, suppressing growth of cancer cells and triggering cancer cell death.
Despite the hot trend and health-promoting potential of the color purple, an analysis by the Produce for Better Health Foundation found that only 3 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S. are from the purple or blue category.
With the growing interest in anthocyanins, you’ll begin to see pills and products fortified with fruit extracts, but Joseph recommended sticking with the real thing.
“You’re better off with the whole fruit or vegetable.”
Get your purple on
You may not find the trendy purple-hued vegetables where you shop, but they are increasingly available during the summer at farmers’ markets, in seed catalogs and via online distributors of specialty produce. More commonly available purple vegetables include purple cabbage and purple kale. Even purple onions contain anthocyanins. You’ll find the protective purple compounds in eggplant, but only if you eat the peel. Here are more ways to add purple to your plate:
—Sprinkle blueberries or blackberries on your morning cereal or oatmeal.
—Make coleslaw with shredded purple cabbage and purple carrots.
—Use purple potatoes in potato salad or include in a mixture of baby potatoes and roast with a drizzle of olive oil.
—Slice purple grapes and add to chicken salad or a tossed green salad.
—Add purple carrots and purple kale to a stir-fry.
—Toss a plum in your bag for an afternoon snack.
—Drink a glass of grape juice at breakfast.
—Make a chunky salsa with purple corn and purple onions.
—Add a side of steamed purple asparagus, beans or cauliflower at dinner.
—Eat a bowl of mixed berries for dessert.
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