By: Lauren M. Koch, RDN
I had a recurring dream as a little girl that I lived in a castle. Too many princess movies I guess? So it’s not really a big surprise that I’ve always had an affinity for royal colors.
Mother Nature not only made these richly pigmented purple and blue plants gorgeous, but they are also packed with nutrition that is hard to find elsewhere. But, before we dive in, I have to add a humorous aside. My husband finds eggplants to be, ‘scary.’ His words. Like, going to jump up and bite you, scary? So, naturally, I had to use them. I usually stick to making eggplant dishes when he travels. But not this week!
In the past few posts, we’ve covered the red and the green family of plants. If you want to know more about their health benefits, as well as some suggestions on how to fit them into your diet, check out the links above after you finish this article. Unless you find eggplant terrifying as well, in which case, I give you permission to stick with the safer red and green produce (I’m sorry, I can’t stop. I just find it so amusing!).
Let us walk through what specific chemical compounds are readily found in these fruits and vegetables, and how they can help make us healthier.
Why Eat Purple and Blue?
As with the other colors, purple and blue plants contain numerous nutrients. The most well studied are resveratrol and anthocyanidins.
Resveratrol is a polyphenolic compound that has been studied for its potential to prevent and/or treat cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. Randomized controlled trials have also shown a positive impact on blood sugar control, insulin levels, and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes consuming resveratrol.
Anthocyanidins are one of the six major subclasses of flavonoid compounds. In the human body, flavonoid compounds have been associated with anti-inflammatory, antithrombogenic (preventing the formation of a blood clot), antidiabetic, anticancer, and neuroprotective properties. Anthocyanidins, specifically, have shown benefits in metabolic and cardiovascular health, as well as improved blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes.
Sources of Purple and Blue
These lovelies are hard to miss. But some of the compounds listed above can also be found in some more reddish-hued plants as well.
Resveratrol can be found in grapes, berries including blueberries and cranberries, some nuts including pistachios and peanuts, beets, cocoa, and dark chocolate. AND, if you were worried that I would leave this one out, WINE. Red wine especially, with the cooler growing pinot noir containing the highest levels of this California-grown compound.
Anthocyanidins are found in almost all red, blue, and black-colored berries, eggplant, black rice, black beans, beets, grapes, and red cabbage.
Meal Ideas to get your Purple and Blue
While this group may be slightly smaller than the previous colors we covered, it sure is tasty. I had a good time developing some meal ideas using those plants that I was able to find in my local market.
For breakfast, I made these beautiful Vegan Red Velvet Pancakes from Fragrant Vanilla Cake. I got a *little* carried away with the beets, wanting to have a vibrant red pancake for my photo. #fail. Don’t do that, stick to the recipe. They TASTED very yummy, but the texture was wrong. Too dense, so they didn’t puff up nicely in the pan. But if you like more crepe-style pancakes, up the beets when you make this :-). I topped them with some gorgeous blackberries, red raspberries, and blueberries. I could barely take a photo before the kids managed to grab them away from me.
You could also use berries as topping in oatmeal, cold cereals, in yogurt, in smoothies, or just as a sweet side for your eggs. Grilled eggplant leftovers could also be thrown into eggs for a savory scramble.
For lunch, a new favorite. I made this Asian Quinoa Salad from Minimalist Baker. I kind of wish that I’d doubled the recipe, it’s that good. I did double the red cabbage quantity to up the purple factor, and it was fantastic. Hubby ate the leftovers for dinner (because you guessed it, there was eggplant involved in dinner. No-go for him.). You could also use red cabbage to make a creamy slaw, in a stir-fry, roast slices for a side, shredded atop a salad, or (my personal favorite idea) in a grilled cheese and red cabbage sandwich.
For a snack, we had fresh figs. My 2-year-old thought that they looked like little pears, and devoured it. My 5-year-old was slightly more suspicious, especially of the seedy inside. I guess she doesn’t trust a fruit without a pit?
For supper, I made a special treat: Gluten-free Eggplant Parmesan Roll-ups. Being gluten-free, I’ve learned to get pretty creative with altering traditional pasta dishes. This is a variation on eggplant parmesan, with a fun twist for the kids. I sliced the eggplants lengthwise (about 1/4″ thick), baked them just enough until they were just starting to soften, then rolled them up with an Italian-seasoned cheese blend. Next, I coated them in gluten-free breadcrumbs, quickly browned them in a saute pan and then topped them with some red sauce and more cheese in a baking dish. It was definitely a winner! All three girls gave the thumbs up. And of COURSE, this tasty Italian dish paired just PERFECTLY with a resveratrol-packed glass of pinot noir. I did it for you. Cheers!
Eggplant is fairly simple to integrate into other dishes. It can be used in place of pasta, or proteins in many dishes. For example, it can be sliced and used in place of lasagna noodles. Or grilled in thick pieces and eaten as a burger. A few of my favorite Pinterest finds are Eggplant Meatballs, and Crunchy Eggplant Bites. Give them a try!
Aside from perhaps the berries, this group is probably one of the least used in American meals. Even for me, it takes a conscious effort to remember to use the purple and blue vegetables. So don’t fret! Start out by trying out a few of the above ideas, and find some new favorites. Your body will thank you.
Photo credits: (all photos not listed are my own)
Eggplant: Photo by Jakub Kapusnak
Wine: Photo by Serge Esteve