You already know that filling your plate with green veggies can benefit your health – greens help detox the liver, fight disease and inflammation, protect the heart, and offer tons of fiber to keep you full. (Check out more reasons to eat leafy green vegetables.)
But let’s shine the spotlight on another hue. Purple foods are super high in antioxidants, like anthocyanins, which give them their beautiful shade. These nutritious foods may support better skin and bone health, brain activity, and heart health and reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes. (Here’s more on why you should be eating more purple foods.) Many of these foods may also contain resveratrol, the anti-inflammatory compound found in red wine.
Sounds pretty good, right? And there’s no denying that the bright purple hue makes for a more fun, creative dish, too. Just imagine how that pop of purple can really jazz up a basic weeknight meal.
You may be surprised to learn that grapes aren’t the only whole food that can give you all these great benefits! There are actually several heirloom varieties of popular veggies that come in purple for a healthy punch of color.
Include more purple foods in your diet with these three surprising sources.
Purple Sweet Potato
Both potatoes and sweet potatoes come in several colors and varieties; purple sweet potatoes are both healthy and colorful. What gives them their hue? “The purple color is present due to a group of phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals with health benefits) called anthocyanins, which are part of the antioxidant family called flavonoids,” says Kelly R. Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
“Flavonoids have been found in general to reduce inflammation and increase the body's natural detoxification of carcinogens, both of which would reduce the risk for chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer,” says Jones.
The benefits of these purple antioxidants in the sweet potato differ from those in the more popular orange sweet potato. “The orange we see in more commonly consumed sweet potatoes represents a higher level of carotenoids, the antioxidant family that protects the eyes and supports skin health, though both have been linked to cancer reducing and heart disease reducing properties,” explains Jones.
Wondering how to cook with them? “You can easily swap them in to a sweet potato soup, chop and roast them for a more colorful side dish, or even make a purple sweet potato salad, mixing chopped pieces with black beans, greens, pumpkin seeds and your favorite vinaigrette,” says Jones.
But don’t say good-bye to your good pal orange forever. Variety is key to ensure your diet includes a range of nutrients and antioxidant sources, supporting long-term health. Just alternate when possible!
Green asparagus is always a healthy addition to a balanced meal. But did you know it actually comes in a purple variety, too? You’ll still get the same benefits of the green version – high fiber, iron, folate, vitamin K, and diuretic properties – but you’ll also get that punch of anthocyanins for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. (Plus, get this—like green asparagus it also offers 33% DV of copper.)
Grill or roast them, along with some spices or lemon zest, for a simple side. The purple color will fade to green when heated, so if you want to preserve the vibrant hue, shave the spears and add to a salad. Purple asparagus is also great chopped and added to soups, frittatas, or stir-fry dishes.
No reason to stick with white cauliflower (#basic) when you can have fun with a few purple florets on the plate. Cauliflower also comes in orange, which will have a few more carotenoids.
As for purple cauliflower, you’ll have a few extra antioxidants than standard white cauliflower thanks to those anthocyanins. And get this: Purple cauliflower actually “contains roughly 25% more vitamin A, which is also in the carotenoid family,” explains Jones.
You can treat purple cauliflower as you would regular – so add it to meatless burger patties, use it for a lower calorie, grain-free rice, add it to stir-fries, or use it in a casserole or pasta dish to add bulk and cut down on more calorie-dense items, like breads, cheeses, and meats.
Sprinkle a little cheese on top for extra flavor, along with pine nuts, onions, olives, or other savory elements that bring in a little salt and umami.
How do you like to cook with these purple superfoods? Please share below!