The secret power of purple food

  • Why you should eat more fruit and veg of this colour 
  • The power of a purple tomato 
  • Are you eating the rainbow? Here’s why you should

Did you manage to pick any blackberries this year?

There were tonnes around the hedgerows where I live.

And this September I actually remembered to get out with some containers and a big bag so I could get ‘em while they were fat and juicy.

I am always aware of the old tradition that you shouldn’t pick blackberries after the 29th of September, even if they look good.


Because the Devil might have urinated on them.

Yep, that’s how the folklore goes.

I’m not sure why the Devil would take time out of his busy day to do that to fruit – surely there are more evil deeds available?

But anyway, if you can still see some tasty looking blackberries out there, it’s possibly worth risking a taste of the Devil’s wee.

Because they are nutritional powerhouses. With powerful anthocyanins – the pigments that give them their purple colour.

Inside your body, these work as antioxidants, protecting your cells from damage and reducing inflammation.

Thanks to this super-healthy pigment, there’s a lot to be said for upping your intake of purple fruit and veg in general.

Anthocyanin-rich foods could protect against conditions such as diabetes, some forms of cancer and heart disease. They are also known to improve brain health, concentration and mood.

But people don’t eat as many purple fruits and vegetables as they should, which has led some scientists to take unusual measures to get them into our diet.

The power of a purple tomato

I was reading recently about a group of British scientists who are seeking approval in the USA for a new PURPLE tomato.

Their reasoning is that two purple tomatoes equate to the same amount of anthocyanins as 70 grams of blackberries.

Dr Eugenio Butelli said: “We believe anthocyanins are a bit special. Everything is converging to the idea that these are really good compounds for you – natural antioxidants that you should introduce into your diet.”

Personally, I am not sure we need to genetically modify tomatoes.

Surely we can just get people to eat more blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, grapes and other fruits?

Or equally, there are other purple-hued fruit and vegetables to eat… for example, black rice, aubergines, red cabbage, purple kale and purple cauliflower.

I guess they are taking this step because tomatoes are more accessible to most shoppers and more commonly used in soups, sandwiches, salads and sauces, so it’s a way to get the health benefits to the largest number of people.

This is not the only recent example of nutritional meddling to “purple-ise” food.

In Texas A&M University, they have a ‘Vegetable Improvement Center’ where they have created a purple-skinned, orange fleshed carrot known as the Beta Sweet.

This gives you the benefits of anthocyanin plus a high beta-carotene content.

It’s a weird story I think, because it’s basically about turning carrots back to their original colour!

Because as you probably know, in the medieval times almost all carrots were purple. The modern day carrot only came about when Dutch growers in the late 16th century mutated them into a sweeter, orange version.

It’s carotenoids which give food like carrots their yellow, red or orange colour and these are also very good for you of course.

How carrots maintain healthy vision

In the gut, beta-carotene metabolises into vitamin A, which boosts your immune system and also helps improve your vision in dim light.

It does this by helping your eyes convert light into a clear signal that can be transmitted to the brain. It also helps maintain the health of your corneas, which can degrade and even disappear if you don’t get enough vitamin A.

This is why there’s a fabulous 20th century myth associated with carrots…

In World War II, radar technology was improving the RAF’s ability to target enemy planes but the British didn’t want the Germans to know this.

So they spread an urban legend which said that our pilots were feasting on huge amounts of carrots to gain an eyesight advantage.

However, in truth, while carrots help maintain your eyesight, bingeing on dozens every day won’t give you super-human vision.

This is because once you have enough beta-carotene in your body it will no longer convert any new arrivals into vitamin A.

Plus, if you eat a huge amount of carrots a day you will start to turn orange – and that’s a real fact, not a myth!

Anyway, if you want to know more about food and vision, check out that book I recommended at the weekend: Save Your Sight

Talking of colours…

Why you should ‘eat the rainbow’

If you want to get the best nutritional support from your diet, one method is to ‘eat the rainbow’.

It’s a principle by which you eat a variety of colourful, natural foods, the most important being red, orange, yellow, green, and purple.

Each has different health benefits because of the naturally occurring chemicals associated with their pigments.

Here’s a general guide:

  • Red – anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, good for the heart, with some protection against skin damage from the sun.
  • Yellow and orange – good for eye-health and protection from heart problems.
  • Green – their anti-inflammatories and antioxidants offer some protection against heart disease and can lower your cancer risk.
  • Blue and purple – as we’ve seen earlier in this letter, purple foods are good for brain health and protection from cell damage.
  • Dark red – helps you take in more oxygen for getting physical performance and strength, along with a lower risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • White and brown – can lower colonic cancer risk and help your heart health.

Having this mixture in your diet regularly will ensure that you can benefit from the widest spread of nutrients.

And your dinner plate will look psychedelic, too.

Can’t go wrong!