How many times in the past week did one of your meals or snacks include a naturally purple food? According to a recent government report nearly 90 percent of Americans don't eat enough produce from this color family, which is linked to a slew of health benefits, from protecting memory, slowing the aging process and safeguarding your heart, to warding off Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. Here are four of my favorites and easy breezy ways to add them to your diet:
Purple cauliflower actually grows in the wild and is popular in southern Italy. It packs the same pigments, called anthocyanins that give blueberries their gorgeous hue, which is wonderful because they're linked to a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurological problems. But other than its unexpected color, this violet variety provides the same nutritional value as the plain old white stuff. It's an excellent source of vitamin C (just 1 cup cooked provides over 90 percent of your daily needs), a great source of fiber with a whopping 8 grams per cup cooked (that's over 30 percent of what's recommended daily), and it contains potassium as well as B vitamins.
How to Eat It: Raw it adds a delicious and colorful crunch to a garden salad, or you can slice into florets, place on a cookie sheet, mist with garlic and herb infused extra virgin olive oil, lightly drizzle with juice from a few fresh lemon wedges and roast at 400 F in a pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes uncovered until tips are golden brown.
Eggplant, or aubergine as the French call it, is low in calories (about 30 per cup cubed), and while it’s not particularly high in vitamins and minerals it's an antioxidant powerhouse — in a recent study scientists found over a dozen different types. Perhaps that’s why in a lab study when animals with high cholesterol were fed eggplant juice, their cholesterol levels significantly dropped and the walls of their blood vessels relaxed, to improve circulation and blood flow and reduce stress on the heart.
How to Eat It : My favorite way to enjoy eggplant is to keep it simple. I sauté cubes (skin on) in a pan over medium heat with extra virgin olive oil, minced yellow onion and green Bell Pepper, fresh basil and sliced grape tomatoes.
Concord Grapes or Juice
When you can’t get fresh Concord grapes (usually late summer but check localharvest.org for your local Farmer’s Market) go for 100 percent juice. A recent University of Florida study found that regular consumption of this delicious juice boosted immunity in healthy middle-aged adults. And bonus: it's a pretty good source of potassium, a mineral that reduces blood pressure and de-bloats by counteracting the effects of sodium.
How to Eat It: Juice is more condensed than fresh fruit, so stick with about 4 oz (a half cup), which you can swirl into iced green tea with fresh mint or freeze in molds for refreshing purple pops.
This stone fruit is coming into season this month. They’re a great source of several key nutrients, including vitamins A and C (both immune supporters), and dried plums (formerly known as prunes — I know, doesn’t dried plums sound so much better?) are loaded with crucial minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium.
How to Eat It: In the summer I love to slice fresh plums, skins on, and grill in foil for about 5 minutes or until they’re soft and juicy. If I’m in a splurge mood I’ll dust with a little cinnamon or cloves and top with a scoop of coconut milk ice cream or drizzle with melted dark chocolate.
Hungry for other purple foods? There are plenty more to gobble up: grapes, figs, passion fruit, blackberries, and purple varieties of carrots, cabbage, asparagus, potatoes, Belgian endive, peppers, onions and kale!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.