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The Power of Purple

  August 02, 2017

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:

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Beets
  • Red onions
  • Figs
  • Grapes
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Eggplant
  • Red cabbage
  • Red lettuce
  • Endive
  • Swiss chard
  • Radishes

    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

Tricolor Slaw

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)


  1. Grate or process the beets in the food processor until medium fine. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Grate or process the carrots in the food processor until medium fine. Add to mixing bowl.
  3. 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.)
  4. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl (or blend in Vitamix or blender), then pour over the salad and mix until well combined.
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 Sustainability starts at home.

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August 02, 2017
Categories:  Nutritional


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