By Benjamin Goodin
“Eat your greens!”
Many of us still experience a shudder of fear or a twinge of childish
resentment as we recall what is, perhaps, the universal struggle between
all children and their parents. As adults, we have likely engaged in
this same battle with our own children, to our own parents’ amusement.
Although our recent ancestors knew that a good diet would help us grow
“strong, tall, and straight of bone,” science has since quantified the
observed effects of eating healthy foods, especially greens.
Current wisdom tells us that plentiful fruits and vegetables are not
just necessary for good health and nutrition, but that “greens” alone
are insufficient to fill our bodily requirements. Another truism,
“everything in moderation,” has become the advice du juor, albeit by the
catchy aphorism “eat the rainbow.” The intended message is that we not
just eat vegetables frequently, but that we eat a diversity of fruit and
vegetable colors. The advice may seem like trendy novelty at first, but
there is solid science to support this stance. Put simply, the color of
a vegetable is a strong signifier of its nutrient content; different
colors provide different benefits in the form of phytonutrient content.
Dieticians, doctors, and health professionals from a wide variety of
disciplines have backed the “eat the rainbow” initiative, creating a
near consensus amongst the health community. The rainbow of fruits and
vegetables, as proposed, is divided into five (or six, in some circles)
categories: red, orange, yellow (sometimes folded into the orange
category), green, blue/purple, and white/brown.
Of particular interest is the blue/purple grouping, as it is estimated
that almost 76 percent of Americans don’t consume enough azure and
aubergine plant foods. Visibility may play a part in this statistic; you
might be challenged to name more than three seasonal varieties of
edible purple plants available in your supermarket (red wine sort-of
counts). The truth is, many of your favorite and familiar vegetables
have purple cultivars, but as they are lesser known, and, hence, not as
in-demand, big-box grocers aren’t as likely to be stocking them — your
search is better conducted at a whole foods store or farmer’s market.
As it turns out, simply a change in color is enough to provide the
benefits unique to the purple grouping. The same substances that turn
plants plum are responsible for their coveted benefits; the deeper the
purple coloring, the more concentrated the dividends. Violet veggies and
fruits have long been used in folk remedies and distillations long
before science verified their usefulness.
The most lauded lineament of lilac leafage is a substance called
anthocyanins — a type of flavonoid (phytochemical) renowned for its
positive effects on cardiovascular function and its inability to be said
three times fast. More specifically, anthocyanins lower blood pressure,
improve blood vessel elasticity, and act as a general
anti-inflammatory. As we all know, healthy circulation is key to muscle,
cognitive, and immune functions.
In addition to circulatory benefits, anthocyanins have strongly
documented antioxidant properties. These properties are not very well
understood, but they are well documented. Anthocyanins disarm free
radicals like an antioxidant, but have the added benefits of limiting
cancer cell reproduction, mobilizing the immune system’s ability to
terminate malfunctioning cells (which can be precancerous), and limiting
the ability of tumors to develop vascular systems.
Preparing amethyst-colored plants for consumption requires a bit of
measured caution, as the substances that impart their rewards are
surprisingly fragile, despite purple cultivars’ strong resistance to
sunlight. As with many plants, eating them raw provides the best
nutrition. Anthocyanins seem to be particularly sensitive to high
cooking temperatures, causing them to fade to a muddied green and lose
measureable nutrition when boiled. Lightly blanching or steaming is
great for purple vegetables, while adding a light acid, like citrus or
mild vinegars, can make them easier to chew and still provide full
nourishment. Mashing and slicing heliotrope fruits preserves their
content. For either type, save the prep for right before your recipe
comes together; the longer they sit chopped, mashed, or sliced, the more
nutrition they lose.
A plate with a side of bright-purple vegetables is sure to surprise
dinner-party guests and pique the fickle interest of little ones.
Anything that aids in the “eat your greens” battle of the ages is a
welcome reprieve; the kids don’t even have to know that their strange,
purple mashed potatoes have an extra healthy kick, you sly dog.
The ultimate list of purple vegetables & fruits — how many have you tried?
The usual suspects:
- Red onions
- Red cabbage
- Red lettuce
- Swiss chard
Getting weirder seasonal delights:
- Black currants
- Açai berries (you can only find these frozen in the U.S.)
- Purple potatoes
- Purple cauliflower
- Red kale
- Purple carrots
- Purple bell peppers
- Purple broccoli
- Purple artichokes
- Purple asparagus
On the wild side — best found at farmers markets:
- Purple kohlrabi
- Purple sweet potatoes
- Purple snow peas
- Chinese long beans
Author: Dawn Gifford, Small Footprint Family
2-3 medium golden beets, trimmed and peeled (you can use red beets, but they will quickly color the whole salad pink.)
5-7 carrots (purple or orange)
5-7 small kohlrabi or 2-3 larger kohlrabi, trimmed and peeled
3-4 Tbsp. expeller-pressed, extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. raw honey (optional)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 sprig fresh dill, chopped, to taste
Sea salt, to taste
Sriracha, Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste
Parsley for garnish (optional)
Small Footprint Family’s goal is to empower and inspire you with the
tools and ideas you need to save money, consume less, produce more, and
live a more meaningful, healthy and sustainable life. For more
information, visit www.smallfootprintfamily.com. Sustainability starts at home.
- Grate or process the beets in the food processor until medium fine. Place in a large mixing bowl.
- Grate or process the carrots in the food processor until medium fine. Add to mixing bowl.
- Grate or process the kohlrabi in the food processor until medium
fine. If they are very small, chop them finely. Add to mixing bowl.
(You want to end up with equal amounts of grated beet, grated carrot,
and grated kohlrabi.)
- Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl (or blend in
Vitamix or blender), then pour over the salad and mix until well
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