Why You Should Be Eating Purple Food
by Catherine Morris | January 16, 2021, updated almost 2 years ago
If you grew up in a household like mine, you were probably told to “eat your greens”. Turns out, there’s more to eating healthy than simply eating your greens. You need all kinds of colours in your diet, all colours, including purple.
Purple foods are high in antioxidants and provide a host of health benefits, and? Purple food is trendier than ever. Have you heard of a purple parsnip? Or a purple Brussels sprout?
Here we break down the healthiest and tastiest purples so you can get started on eating this specific part of the rainbow.
If you were thinking purple carrots are the new kid on the root vegetable block, think again. This colourful variety actually pre-dates the orange kind we're all so familiar with today. In fact, up until the 16th century, everyone was chowing down on purple carrots (aka Eastern carrots). It was only when farmers started experimenting with new, sweeter strains, that we got the familiar orange variety.
Personally, I haven't noticed much of a difference in taste, but it might be worth switching up your carrot game for health reasons. Much like a 'regular' carrot, the purples are packed with vitamin C and fibre, but they also come with a dose of anthocyanins.
You're going to be hearing a lot about anthocyanins in this article—these are the antioxidants that give purple foods their colour, and they are really good at counteracting oxidative stress. What's oxidative stress? That's when you have too many free radicals in your system, caused by environmental stressors like pollution, poor diet, and pesticides. Oxidative stress can lead to disease, premature aging and mental decline, so it's very important to balance out your free radicals by eating foods that are rich in antioxidants such as anthocyanins.
These brightly coloured spuds are mostly grown in South America, where they're a common side dish on dinner tables. Open them up and you'll find the purple colour isn't just skin deep–they're a violet hue from the peel right down to the flesh.
Purple potatoes have a sweet nutty flavour...but not too sweet. Anyone with diabetes or insulin resistance should consider swapping their normal spuds for the purple kind as this variety has a lower glycemic index than either white or yellow potatoes.
They're high in that all-important antioxidant, anthocyanin, but they also contain potassium, vitamin C and selenium.
Common bell peppers come in the traffic light colours of red, yellow and green but there's an oddity in the pepper family—a purple offshoot that's really striking, and really healthy.
Known as 'lilac' peppers, the plant needs to be harvested before it's fully ripe or that signature purple will turn red. Like the other bell pepper varieties, it has a fresh sweet taste that works well in stir-frys and salads.
Purple peppers are high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and anthocyanin. They're also rich in fibre and folate.
Purple Cruciferous Veggies
Think of a cruciferous vegetable and chances are there's a purple variety. Don't believe me? Try some purple cauliflower, purple broccoli, purple kale, purple kohlrabi, or purple cabbage (okay, last one is more of a red).
The weirdest has to be purple Brussels sprouts. Purple Brussels sprouts were created by the Dutch, and they're a hybrid of red cabbage and green Brussels sprouts.
Prettier than your average veggie, these sprouts come in two strains—green sprouts laced with purple veins, or purple sprouts with green veins. Either way, they're an unusual addition to the dinner table and healthier than the green version thanks to those anthocyanins and a higher vitamin C content.
A word of warning—if you don't like ordinary Brussels sprouts, you're not likely to enjoy the purple kind either. The taste is similar, although some say the purples are a little sweeter.
Berries are nature's candy (just ask bears), but you'll get a lot more out of these fruits than your average chocolate bar...especially if they’re purple.
There's a lot of purple berries, but we'll start with a national favourite named after their province of origin. Saskatoon berries may look like blueberries, but they’re more closely related to apples and have a nuttiness to them. In season, June through July, these antioxidant rich berries are also full of calcium vitamin C, iron and magnesium, and they contain three times as much potassium as blueberries.
Berries that contain anthocyanin, such as saskatoon berries, mulberries, and the less well-known chokeberries and huckleberries, are particularly helpful if you have cardiovascular health issues. Why? Because the antioxidant is very efficient at lowering LDL cholesterol, and improving glucose metabolism. So even though these are sweet treats, they won't spike and crash your blood sugar levels, causing metabolic disorder over the long-term.
Other good purple berries to look out for include elderberries and acai berries. The latter has become known as a 'superfood' thanks to its low sugar content but high levels of vitamin C and healthy fatty acids.
Eating Your Purples
By now you know all about anthocyanin and the health benefits of purple foods, but that doesn't help when you're staring down a purple cauliflower wondering how to turn it into dinner.
Don't stress—there's not that much difference between green and purple when it comes to taste, and you can treat purple veggies the same way you would their more common coloured counterparts. Mash up a purple potato for a fun supper (especially if you have picky eaters at home), roast those purple carrots with a dash of cumin, throw purple peppers into your next stir-fry.
When it comes to berries, you can get a little more creative. Acai berries are tart so team them with something a little sweet—you can always blend them into a smoothie with a spoonful of honey, or serve them with sweetened whipped cream.
If you're feeling really adventurous, why not try a dessert from the Philippines? Ube is a popular treat made from purple yams. The yams are boiled and mashed, then blended with either coconut or condensed milk. You can also add butter and/or sugar to taste. Ube can be served as a mousse, a pudding, or a cake-like patty.
If you want to get more purple in your diet, reach out to one of Which Doctor's many qualified dietitians or nutritionists today to get advice tailored to your health goals and needs.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.