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Blackberries

Take a Bite Out of Summer — Anthocyanins

It’s blackberry season.
Inspired by their rich, deep hues at the farmers market tables yesterday, I could not help but buy three cartons.

Rubus is a diverse genus of flowering and fruiting plants that encompass raspberries, blueberries, and of course, blackberries (Rubus fruticosus L.). Originating in Europe, these highly pigmented fruits are packed with nutrients. Colors, particularly of the red, blue and purple shades, are determined by the fruit’s pH and light exposure as well as the environmental temperature; reds are denoted by higher acidity (pH ≤7) while darker, blue shades are more basic (pH ≥7). In particular, anthocyanins are a dietary phytochemical and type of polyphenol that can provide a number of benefits in chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as facilitate improved vision and weight management.

Known as a potent antioxidant, anthocyanins are bioactive compounds that are associated with their ability to scavenge free radicals to protect our cells and vessels from damage leading to dysfunction. Disturbances in angiogenesis, or the production and maintenance of blood vessels, can be a top contributor to many conditions, especially cancer. As demonstrated in research studies, anthocyanins may play a role in the inhibition of inflammatory mediators, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-ɑ), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) in cancer cells; however, preliminary studies call for further investigation to validate these results.

Due to the standard American diet lacking an emphasis on nutrient-dense foods and the mass marketing of processed foods, the rates of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, continue to rise. But, could anthocyanins be beneficial to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels? 

In a clinical trial of 58 diabetic patients, six-month purified anthocyanin supplementation led to a decrease of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), total cholesterol and triglycerides as well as the increase in total plasma antioxidant capacity; in addition, participants had lower fasting plasma glucose and improved insulin resistance in comparison with placebo. Another clinical trial with one-month fruit-based anthocyanin supplementation also showed promising results for both lipid and antioxidant capacity. Even so, researchers agree that more studies are needed, and that it is harder said than done to design a nutrition study for two principal reasons, 1) each person has an individualized genetic and lifestyle make-up, and 2) anthocyanin-rich foods, such as berries, have many other nutrients that could be attributed to these incredible health changes.

Apart from their medicinal properties, this versatile compound can be extracted and used as an additive or colorant for purple-colored foods and beverages. As a natural option, it can be a wonderful alternative to synthetic additives that could potentially impact the body in the opposite manner of the intended therapeutic use of anthocyanins.

So, what did I do with these fresh blackberries? As an amateur vegan recipe developer, I created a beautifully sweet yet tangy rustic blackberry galette. With a chiffonade of basil and mint and a dollop of vegan vanilla ice cream, one bite can nourish the mind, the body and the taste buds. 

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