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The Color Purple

by Jennifer Acosta Scott

THE QUEST FOR YOUTHFULNESS is almost as old as time itself. But the secret may be as close as your neighborhood supermarket.

Is it a potent night cream or miracle pill? No, it’s the produce section — particularly those bins of blueberries, plums, cabbage and other goodies in shades of purple and blue. Items with these deep, dark hues are rich in nutrients that help preserve cells and deter the usual symptoms of aging. “They are absolutely great for preventing a whole host of age-related problems, from wrinkles to chronic disease,” says Sally Weerts, professor of public health at the University of North Florida.

To understand how a plum a day keeps a facelift away, it’s important to look at things closely — all the way down to the molecular level. Naturally purple and blue foods all contain high amounts of antioxidants. These antioxidants stabilize free radicals, molecules with unpaired electrons that would otherwise go on to attack living cells and cause wear and tear on the body. Upping your intake of these deep-hued foods can keep such cell damage to a minimum, resulting in slower breakdown of collagen (the stuff that keeps your skin from sagging), reduced macular degeneration, and other benefits.

So why not just increase your consumption of antioxidant-rich foods in general, rather than concentrating on specific colors? Well, eating lots of purple and blue foods helps to maximize your intake of oligoprocyanidins — a specific type of antioxidant that may be better at preventing age-related brain diseases like dementia.

“We have a barrier between our brain and circulatory systems,” explains Dr. Gina Nick, a naturopathic physician in California. “Only certain nutrients cross that barrier, and OPCs can do it very efficiently. This could help protect the brain from neurodegeneration.”

The benefits of OPCs aren’t limited to aging concerns. OPCs can also block histadine carboxylate, an inflammatory compound that arises during illnesses like colds. Consuming OPC-rich foods will often have the same effect as an over-the-counter antihistamine, Nick says. (And there are no druggie side effects!)

Of course, consuming bowlfuls of grapes isn’t a ‘magic bullet’ cure for aging. Both Weerts and Nick warn that other precautions, like wearing sunscreen and exercising, should be taken to retain a youthful feeling and appearance. But the key to getting the maximum benefit from purple and blue fruits and vegetables is to make them a consistent feature of your diet. At least three servings a day of purple and blue foods is advisable, Nick says, and is quite easy to do.

“A handful of blackberries would be considered a serving,” Nick says. “A small bunch of steamed kale would count, too. Ultimately, you’re trying to find things that you enjoy. Otherwise you won’t keep up with it.” •

from the July-August 2007 issue


blueberries

PURPLE & BLUE
FRUITS & VEGETABLES
excellent sources of antioxidants
beetroot
blackberries
black currants
black raspberries
blueberries
elderberries
eggplant
loganberries
passion fruit
plums
pomegranates
prunes
purple cabbage
purple figs
purple grapes
purple raisins


passion fruit