Try These Purple Vegetables: Benefits Explored

Purple vegetables stand out not just for their striking appearance but also for their rich nutritional content. Their vivid hue and multitude of health advantages stem from anthocyanins, the plant pigment that gives them their unique color. In this article, we'll explore purple vegetables, their health benefits, and how to incorporate them into your diet.

What are purple vegetables?

Purple vegetables are plant foods that come in a range of purple hues, from lavender to deep violet. Examples of purple vegetables include:

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  • Eggplant
  • Purple potato
  • Red cabbage
  • Beets
  • Purple cauliflower
  • Red onions
  • Purple asparagus
  • Purple carrots
  • Radicchio
  • Purple tomato
  • Okinawan sweet potato
  • Turnip
  • Purple kohlrabi
  • Purple kale

Though trendy, these vibrant-colored veggies aren’t new. Did you know the carrot was a purple vegetable before it was orange? Evidence suggests that the first carrots cultivated around 900 AD were purple and yellow.

Purple cauliflower, on the other hand, is a newer vegetable. It’s a cross-breed between traditional heirloom varieties and a naturally mutated variety found in the field.

What makes vegetables purple?

Purple vegetables get their color from anthocyanins, a group of pigmented flavonoids found in colorful plants. Anthocyanins also make cranberries red, blueberries blue, and blackberries black. In the case of purple veggies, the purple coloring is part of the plant's defense system, protecting the vegetable from damaging elements like the sun, weather, and insects.

The protective elements in the pigments of the purple vegetable also benefit human health. Most notably, the plant pigments are strong antioxidants, helping neutralize free radicals and lower your risk of disease.

The body absorbs and metabolizes anthocyanins quickly, and regular consumption of purple fruits and vegetables is a safe way to get the antioxidants and the benefits that come with them. Currently, there are no dietary intake recommendations for anthocyanins.

Purple vegetable benefits

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Packed with nutrients like folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, purple vegetables offer many benefits. They support digestion, boost immune health, and improve heart health.

Antioxidant properties of purple vegetables

Researchers believe the benefits of purple vegetables are mostly due to the antioxidant activity of the anthocyanins. Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize unstable molecules — free radicals — that damage cells in the body.

Free radicals are a byproduct of the body’s metabolic process. Antioxidants are compounds that counteract the unstable molecules, keeping levels low.

If free radicals outnumber antioxidants, the body enters a state of oxidative stress that may lead to cell and tissue damage. It’s theorized that oxidative stress plays a significant role in the development of age-related diseases like arthritis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

The body makes antioxidants and gets them from food. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants, like purple vegetables, may limit free radical accumulation, preventing or delaying age-related diseases.

Heart health and purple veggies

People who eat more purple vegetables are potentially at lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The vibrant vegetables protect heart health in a few ways.

First, the strong antioxidant reduces oxidative damage, which has been linked to various health conditions like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurological diseases.

In addition, research suggests that anthocyanins protect heart health by improving cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and reducing chronic inflammation.

Boosting brain function with purple produce

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The compounds and nutrients in purple produce may protect brain and nerve cells by neutralizing free radicals, reducing inflammation, and improving neural connections. These actions may prevent or delay age-related changes in brain function.

Purple veggies may also benefit brain function in older adults at risk of dementia. One study discovered that older adults experienced heightened brain activity during a memory exercise when they consumed anthocyanin-rich foods daily.

The study didn’t evaluate memory or learning, only brain activity, so it’s not clear if eating purple fruits and vegetables improves these functions.

Purple vegetables are good for digestion

Purple vegetables are a good source of fiber. Most Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diet. Getting more fiber relieves and prevents constipation by softening and adding bulk to stool, making it easier to pass.

Fiber in purple vegetables may also improve the health and diversity of the microorganisms that live in the gut. Though in the early stages of research, improving the balance of microorganisms in the gut may benefit immune health, metabolism, and mood.

Why is it important to eat vegetables?

It’s important to eat vegetables because they provide essential nutrients like vitamins A and C, potassium, and fiber, as well as other health-promoting compounds like anthocyanins. People who eat more vegetables are generally at lower risk of health problems.

Vegetables are also low in calories and high in fiber. When part of a balanced diet, vegetables keep you full on fewer calories, which contributes to weight management.

Do purple vegetables taste differently?

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Every purple vegetable boasts its own distinct flavor profile. While certain purple variations of commonly known vegetables, such as cauliflower and asparagus, may resemble their traditional counterparts, others offer entirely different tastes.

For instance, the Okinawan sweet potato is a purple root vegetable that has an earthy sweet flavor and dry texture and may taste a little different than the orange-fleshed sweet potato. The purple carrot also tastes different, with a more peppery bite than the sweet orange carrot.

Tips on how to incorporate purple vegetables into your diet

Incorporating purple vegetables into your meals is simple and delicious.

  • Swap out conventional varieties for their purple counterparts; try roasting purple cauliflower or carrots to create vibrant and nutritious side dishes.
  • For maximum nutrition, consider roasting a medley of colorful vegetables together. Experiment with mashed purple sweet potatoes to add a visually striking and wholesome starchy element to your meals.
  • Purple vegetables can also serve as hearty main dishes; explore options like eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, or red cabbage steak for satisfying meatless meals. Elevate your salads by incorporating vibrant purple ingredients such as radicchio, purple kale, or purple tomatoes for added color and nutritional benefits.

Remember, any purple vegetable not only adds visual appeal to your plate but also provides essential nutrients that support your health. The anthocyanins responsible for their purple hue offer numerous health benefits. While integrating purple vegetables into your diet enhances nutrition and well-being, optimal health benefits are achieved by consuming a diverse array of fruits and vegetables across a spectrum of colors.

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