Anthocyanins: Not Just a Colorful Facade
What makes blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, and blackberries so rich in color? The answer is anthocyanins. Because of their rich hues of red, purple, and blue, anthocyanins are used as food colorants to produce some of the more popular food colors in the food and beverage industry. Anthocyanins are flavonoids, so in addition to their ability to provide a spectrum of intense hues, they have a wealth of antioxidant properties that researchers are beginning to explore.
During the session “Anthocyanins: A Colorful Array of Health-Promoting Properties” on Wednesday morning, June 27, speakers presented epidemiological studies that seem to prove that anthocyanins exhibit health-promoting benefits against chronic inflammatory diseases. Seven hundred anthocyanins have been identified in nature, but not all of them have the same properties or behave the same way. According to speaker Elvira de Mejia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, certain anthocyanins were demonstrably effective in reducing at least two biomarkers for inflammation: nitric oxide and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). Nitric oxide is associated with many diseases, including cardiovascular disease; COX-2 is associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Other epidemiological evidence also demonstrates the effectiveness of anthocyanins’ anti-inflammatory action. In the real world, however, the effectiveness of anthocyanins against disease may not be realized.
Speaker Taylor Wallace, Council for Responsible Nutrition, pointed out that only 3% of Americans follow the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for consumption of vegetables and fruits, the primary dietary sources for anthocyanins. This means the intake of anthocyanins by U.S. consumers is very low and perhaps accounts for the high incidence of cardiovascular disease among Americans. Despite the fact that studies indicate anthocyanins can lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and glucose in the blood, Mary Lila, The Ohio State University, offered a caution: Such studies rely on concentrated doses of anthocyanins, and the potency of anthocyanins is often diluted during processing and preserving. In addition, the bioactivity of any one phytochemical compound is often dependent on the many other compounds present in plant foods.
So until researchers learn more about the interactions of anthocyanins and other phytochemicals in plant foods, the best practice is to maintain a diet rich in whole vegetables and fruits for a healthy lifestyle.