Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue (Thanks to the Anthocyanins)
Blueberries are also antioxidant powerhouses containing a variety of phytonutrients, including anthocyanins, from the Greek anthos, meaning “flower” plus kyanos, meaning “blue.” Anthocyanins may be the most important of the visible plant pigments, responsible for the reds, purples, and blues you see in plants that have strong antioxidant properties. They are found in such fruits as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, black raspberries, black currants, açai, and chokeberry and vegetables including red cabbage, watercress, and eggplant. Anthocyanins provide many different functions for the plant. They are antioxidants, protect the plant against UV light, are a defense mechanism, and have an important role in pollination and reproduction. The purple pansy, for example, owes its color to anthocyanins, which attract insects to propagate the species.
As antioxidants, anthocyanins protect plants from free radicals produced by sunlight or damage to the plant. The ability of the anthocyanins to protect plants from free-radical damage can also benefit us when we eat foods that are rich in anthocyanins.
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, blueberries contain many powerful polyphenols that make them a true superfood, one that I have been recommending for decades. We know that they are rich in polyphenols such as the anthocyanins, which have many benefits, including the following.
Anthocyanins also possess a special form of stilbenes known as pterostilbene, which activates the genes that influence longevity factors. This is another reason choosing brightly colored fruits and vegetables is essential. The colors signify the presence of plant pigments, which do more than just add color to fruits, vegetables, and certain seafood. Colorful fruits and vegetables serve as the top dietary sources of disease-preventive phytonutrients and antiaging antioxidants. But, this is not the entire story. We now know that many of these phytonutrients also work through other mechanisms, specifically the expression of genes that can upregulate the natural protective mechanisms of our cells.