Nutritionists tell us that good nutrition isn’t just about eating your greens – the key to a balanced diet involves tasting each facet of the color wheel, including those often-neglected blue, purple, and black foods. Why? In addition to essential vitamins and minerals, colorful plant-based foods contain phytonutrients; natural chemicals known to be an extremely beneficial nutritional resource. Phytonutrients provide a host of protective factors that promote optimal organ function and aid the body in the prevention of chronic illness. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains of all colors contain phytonutrients, but most folks neglect the unusual or unfamiliar colors, opting for the more familiar green, red, and orange foods. In doing so, unwitting consumers may be losing out on some incredible benefits.
Why Choose Blue, Purple, and Black Produce?
Blue, purple, and black fruits and vegetables contain a host of beneficial compounds that can help prevent disease, reduce inflammation, and promote the health of the brain, heart, and vascular system.
One such compound is resveratrol. Resveratrol is well known for its ability to reduce inflammation and promote healthy blood sugar, as well as benefit the cardiovascular system. Perhaps most significant, resveratrol is widely praised for its anti-pathogen properties and is demonstrably successful in fighting bacteria, fungi, and tumors. “The anticancer properties of resveratrol have been confirmed by many … studies, which show that resveratrol is able to inhibit all carcinogenesis stages (e.g., initiation, promotion and progression). Many studies also provided evidence that resveratrol not only acts a chemopreventive agent, but also display[s] chemotherapeutic properties linked to its anti-inflammatory [and] antioxidant” properties. Most folks have consumed plenty of this prolific phytonutrient, whether they’ve known it or not. Found in over 70 plant species, resveratrol is most commonly detected in the skin of grapes and peanuts, red wine, peanut butter, blueberries, cocoa, and dark chocolate. While recent studies have suggested that significant amounts of this compound must be consumed before notable effects can be seen in humans, regularly consuming whole blue, purple and black foods can be a great place to start.
Another phytonutrient, pterostilbene, can also be found in grapes and is the “primary antioxidant component of blueberries.” This compound, much like resveratrol, may help to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. It may also be useful in preventing cancer and helping to promote brain health and cognition. “Substantial evidence suggests that pterostilbene may have numerous preventive and therapeutic properties in a vast range of human diseases that include neurological, cardiovascular, metabolic, and hematologic disorders.”
Pterostilbene is structurally similar to resveratrol and is widely considered to be an excellent candidate for preventative and therapeutic use in humans. Although resveratrol has proven difficult to source and produce for the pharmaceutical industry, pterostilbene is not only more easily metabolized, but 80% more bioavailable, meaning it is more effective at entering the bloodstream and consequently having a beneficial impact upon the body.
Blue, Purple, and Black Options at the Grocery Store
When looking to incorporate this color group to one’s diet, knowing where to start is key. For fruits, the most common options are berries; blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, Marion berries and huckleberries are excellent sources. Berries are known for their great taste and their antioxidant content, among other great benefits. Like most fruits and veggies, the most important nutrients can be found in the skin of the fruit. Phytonutrients can be found in the same quality and quantity in frozen fruits, so berries are a great option year-round. And in this case, size doesn’t matter; smaller berries are typically higher in nutrients, as smaller organic blueberries grown without pesticides have proven to be more nutritious than their larger counterparts. Other options in this color category include figs, grapes, raisins, plums, and prunes. Some veggies to consider are purple bell peppers, purple carrots, purple cabbage, purple cauliflower, eggplant, black and kalamata olives, purple kale, purple and black rice, and purple potatoes. Because availability and demand vary, many people don’t even know that purple variations of potatoes, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, or kale exist. While they may be more expensive than their other colored alternatives, they’re worth asking a local grocer about. Looking for seasonally and locally available options is also a great way to find new, colorful options and can have the added benefit of eating with environmental consciousness in mind.
Incorporating the Colors: How to Eat the Rainbow
It’s one thing to say ‘eat the rainbow,’ but what does that actually look like? Because they are a bit more difficult to find, blue, purple, and black foods may be harder to incorporate into a diet. But don’t worry— there are still several creative ways to add in this color group. Berries are extremely versatile, easy to prepare, and can be purchased both fresh and frozen. Berries can be added to cereal, eaten as a snack, added to yogurt, and even made into a smoothie. We like this berry smoothie recipe. As an added bonus, to make the smoothie plant-based, try substituting the milk and Greek yogurt for non-dairy options like coconut or almond milk and yogurt. Berries can even be a great part of a salad, like in this blueberry spinach salad recipe, which pairs the fresh fruit with pungent balsamic vinegar and toasted pecans. Purple kale is a tasty and colorful alternative to the traditional green kale and is an extremely versatile vegetable. Try this purple kale and cherry tomato pasta for a Mediterranean-inspired vegetarian option with garlicky kale, feta cheese, and sweet cherry tomatoes. Veggies like eggplant and purple potatoes can be added to a stir-fry or eaten as a side dish with meats. As the holidays approach, give purple mashed potatoes a try for a colorful, festive addition to your celebration. Have picky eaters at home? Chop up some purple potatoes, coat them in olive oil and sea salt, and toss them into an air fryer for a twist on homemade french fries. Purple and black rice can both be substituted for traditional white rice and can offer more flavor. Purple cabbage is a great, tasty addition to any salad or coleslaw for some added phytonutrients. For a flavor-packed and eye-catching side dish, this Sicilian-style roasted purple cauliflower salad with capers, pickled red onions, and fresh herbs is a tried-and-true favorite from our editor! Dried fruits like raisins, prunes, and dried figs are all tasty, easy to transport snacks to keep hand for any situation.
Blue, purple, and black foods have a host of nutritional benefits to consider. This color group brings many great nutritional benefits, and eating purple and blue produce can aid in cancer prevention, inflammation reduction, and help support the heart, vascular system, and brain. While most consumers aren’t quite as familiar with this corner of the produce aisle, this color group can offer plenty of tasty options. Blueberries, blackberries, and boysenberries are easily found, and easy to incorporate for some added phytonutrients. Purple cabbage, potatoes, and kale are also readily available in grocery stores and farmers markets, seasonally. What kind of purple or blue produce are you excited to try? Let us know in the comments below!
Mixed Berry Smoothie from Dinner at the Zoo
Blueberry Spinach Salad With Honey Balsamic Dressing from Blue Bowl
Puple Kale & Cherry Tomato Pasta from Happy Veggie Kitchen
Mashed Purple Potatoes from It’s A Veg World After All
Sicilian Style Purple Cauliflower Salad from Feasting at Home
Eat the Rainbow
Looking for a fun and educational way to discuss a healthy diet with the family? Eating fruits and vegetables has never been this much fun! Explore the colors of healthy foods with Landon and his friends in this phytonutrient—filled journey to health. Written by award-winning integrative psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Terry, and illustrated by Davida Simon Terry, Eat the Rainbow is a colorful adventure—perfect for kids of all ages. Find it on Amazon or click the link below.