According to Purdy, antioxidants are split up into two types: enzymatic and non-enzymatic, with the latter being the more common type we think of. Non-enzymatic antioxidants include important nutritional compounds like vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols, a powerful type of antioxidant that gives plants their vibrant colors.
Anthocyanins are one such type of flavonoid that have become more well-known over the years, and for good reason: They have been linked to a bounty of longevity-boosting health benefits. And according to Purdy, there is one super simple way to identify which foods are richest in anthocyanin benefits when you're at the grocery store: Look for blue and purple-colored forms of produce. "This type of antioxidant is responsible for the deep red, blue, and purple pigments found in fruits and vegetables," Purdy says. "Blueberries, plums, and red cabbage are three great examples."
- Laura Purdy, MD, board-certified family medicine physician
While we know that antioxidants are beneficial for overall health and longevity, anthocyanins have some extra-special health-promoting powers. “Research has demonstrated that anthocyanins can provide antioxidant effects that may improve cellular function, offer anti-cancer and neuroprotective properties, help with reducing inflammation, and support both immune and heart health,” says Purdy.
“Research has demonstrated that anthocyanins can provide antioxidant effects that may improve cellular function, offer anti-cancer and neuroprotective properties, help with reducing inflammation, and support both immune and heart health,” says Purdy.
If those weren’t enough reasons to inspire you to look for more ways to up your intake, a 2019 study out of Germany found that anthocyanin-rich juice helped support a healthy metabolism and even protected the integrity of one’s DNA. Additional research shows that anthocyanins can aid in prevention of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes, and other neurodegenerative diseases. "They can also act as tumor suppressants and help improve visual health," Purdy says.
While Purdy notes that the exact amount of anthocyanins needed to reap the reported health benefits is hard to determine, she says that research shows those who consumed just 25 milligrams each day (for reference, a cup of blackberries contains 100 milligrams) experienced reduced inflammation levels.
Best food sources of anthocyanins
Purdy says that the best food sources of anthocyanins include dark-colored berries—particularly black, blue, and elderberries. However, she says that red cabbage, purple plums, and red grapes (red wine included) are also excellent sources. Anthocyanins are also found in small amounts in certain grains and seeds like Forbidden black rice and Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat.
The good news is, no matter where you’re getting your anthocyanins from, emerging research has shown that we can help make these important antioxidants more easily absorbed by the body. While Purdy says it was once believed that flavonoids are poorly absorbed by the body, it turns out that the status of our microbiomes have an impact on transforming them into “more bioavailable metabolites” that will make them more readily absorbed.
“A more diverse gut microbial population influenced by a high-fiber and varied diet will increase the likelihood that anthocyanins will be better metabolized,” says Purdy. “Additionally, crops that are grown with fewer chemicals tend to be higher in these protective plant compounds, so it’s important to seek out options that have been grown without the use of pesticides when possible.”
Simple ways to up your intake of anthocyanins
Stepping up your anthocyanin game is pretty easy, considering it’s a component of some of our favorite fruits and veggies. We love this five-ingredient blueberry bread that combines real blueberries and a berry powder antioxidant blend for some serious anthocyanin power. And if you’re looking for something savory, roasted red cabbage is a seriously addictive vegetable side and a red cabbage-based sauerkraut is sure to become your new favorite gut-healthy condiment for tacos, salads, sandwiches, and more.
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