5 Surprising Benefits of Blue Foods
From blueberries to red cabbage to blue corn, there are loads of foods in various shades of blue. Their deep colors not only attract our eyes, but also provide numerous health benefits. Let's take a look at some powerful ways these superfoods can support your mind and body!
This post contains affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through any of these links, at no extra cost to you. CLICK HERE to learn more.
Eat the Rainbow
As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I always recommend my clients eat as many colors of the rainbow as possible. My rule of thumb is to aim for 3-5 natural colors on your plate per meal. This ensures you get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals along with disease-crushing compounds.
Of all the colors to add to your plate or bowl, blue is one of the most powerful. Let's take a look at why you'll always want to keep blue foods in your pantry and fridge to support your brain and body. We'll also cover 20 blue foods that can provide you with the BEST benefits.
But first, what on earth makes these foods so pretty?!
What Makes Them Blue?
Blue foods get their enchanting shades from a plant pigment called anthocyanin. These pigments range from red like you see in cherries, cranberries and pomegranates to the deep blues and purples seen in berries, purple grapes, red cabbage and blue corn.
These pretty colors are even found in flower petals like roses, violets and delphiniums. Their colors are often extracted and used as natural food coloring (a far better alternative to carcinogenic dyes). Plus these extracts have numerous health benefits to boot!
Let's take a look at 5 rewards you can get from eating more blue foods.
5 Surprising Health Benefits of Blue Foods
There is no doubt blue foods are a gift from heaven to help humans and animals stay smart, remain strong and ward off illness. From head to toe, these superfoods have some surprising benefits for both our brains and bodies.
Let's dive into 5 awesome powers these colorful and delicious foods provide for human health:
1. Better Eyesight
Did you know anthocyanin-rich blue foods and supplements are commonly used in Europe and Asia for eye health? It's no surprise given studies show all kinds of associations with anthocyanins and vision health. For one thing, anthocyanins have been found to cross the blood-retinal barrier giving them special access to work magic in our eyes.
This healing work includes increasing retinal blood flow in glaucoma patients and helping regenerate light-sensitive eye proteins called rhodopsins, which help us see in dim light. An early study in 1989 even showed the use of dark blue bilberry fruit and vitamin E to stop the progression of cataracts in 96% of human subjects!
Bilberries and blackcurrants, which both have very high anthocyanin content, have been a favorite in eye-health studies. Purple corn has also been shown to improve cataract issues.
Even if your eye health is "fine" right now, you'll do well to "look to the future" by adding more dark blue foods to your plate. And if your eyes are struggling already, be sure to get more blue foods on the menu!
2. Improved Memory & Attention Span
I remember the first time I read a long and nerdy National Geographic article from start to finish (back when the articles were ultra detailed page after page). It was directly after consuming an entire package of Trader Joe's wild blueberries. I didn't know what had gotten into me... except those berries!
I believed then and now that my improved focus was due to the amazing properties found in those dark blueberries. Science backs this up! In fact a study on kids ages 7-10 showed that giving them an anthocyanin-rich wild blueberry drink (the equivalent of about 1-1/2 cups of blueberries) significantly improved their memory and attention spans right away. This is exactly what happened to me after mowing down all those berries!
And this benefit is not just found in kiddos. Blueberries, and other dark blue foods like Concord grapes, have been shown to improve cognitive function, including memory, in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Researchers note that these memory-boosting fruit findings are very significant-- especially for adults with an increased risk for dementia. An animal study even showed big improvements in memory and motor performance in rats who loaded up on blackberries.
And lest we give all the glory to fruit, another animal study using blue corn tortillas showed better short and long term memory skills, as well learning abilities, in rats. While this was a rodent study, I take it as great news for me and my fellow blue corn lovers!
Here is another "smart" reason to keep plenty of blue foods in your fridge and pantry. Remember, these foods can help our brains at any age so be sure the whole family has access to lots of yummy blue options (see top 20 list below).
3. Reduced Joint & Knee Pain
I don't know about you, but anything that tastes good, helps my brain work better AND supports my knees and joints deserves 5,000 bonus points!
Two studies done on patients with painful knee osteoarthritis (affecting their mobility and quality of life) used berry fruits to reduce pain levels and improve walking abilities. One of these studies looked at blueberries while the other used strawberries. Both concluded that the compounds found in berries provided a multitude of benefits, including: acting as a natural analgesic (a.k.a. pain reliever), reducing inflammation and improving stride.
Those are some pretty awesome positive side effects to simply eating more blueberries and strawberries everyday!
Another analysis reviewed studies of various types fruits affecting different types of arthritis-- regular arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The biggest winners for promoting arthritic healing and natural pain relief across the board were... you guessed it: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and pomegranates. Hello, anthocyanin-rich fruits!
Even though we are talking about blue foods here, the same compounds that make various shades of blue also create lovely hues of red and pink. The blue and purple colors tend to manifest in more neutral or alkaline settings (mid to high pH) while reds and pinks come about from higher acid content (low pH). ALL of them contain health-boosting anthocyanins.
When you think of putting more blue foods on your plate, remember to embrace the reds, pinks and magentas as well! It's all in the family!
4. Decreased Disease Risk
From cancer to cardiovascular disease, from diabetes to Alzheimer's, from osteoporosis to colitis, anthocyanin-rich foods show very promising results for reducing our risks of some of life's most dreaded diseases.
The properties of these colorful foods have been tested on everything from cancer cell lines to cholesterol, from blood pressure to blood sugar, from bone cells to skin cells to brain cells to the heart, gut and everything in between. The results range from ABSOLUTELY remarkable to very promising and exciting!
A common thread in many of these studies has been consuming significant doses of blue foods. For example, in a heart health study it was found that at-risk populations (such as those with obesity) had to consume at least one cup of blueberries per day to improve their cardiovascular health. When they consumed half that amount, no benefits were observed.
In the cancer cell studies, very high concentrations of anthocyanins were used in vitro (in a dish) and in vivo (in animals) to see amazing results such as: free radical scavenging activity, detoxification activity, reduced tumor cell growth and reduced invasiveness. Human studies showed mixed results (some very promising and some insignificant) perhaps because of lower concentrations than in vitro studies or perhaps because of the way anthocyanins are absorbed in the human tummy. Hopefully more human studies will come forth soon!
In the meantime, there is plenty of research to validate a multitude of health benefits form consuming lots of anthocyanin-rich blue foods (see References below).
Whether you are concerned with your own heart health, brain health, blood sugar or bones, your health and longevity will most certainly benefit from a rainbow of fruits and veggies consumed daily. And blue foods should always be on the menu!
5. Happier Moods
Last but not least, you'll be happy to learn that blue foods are NOT associated with the blues. Rather the opposite!
The flavonoids found in blueberries have been associated with positive moods. Studies done on children and young adults-- ages when depression can first manifest-- showed significantly less depressive symptoms in groups treated with wild blueberries.
One reason this may be possible is that anthocyanins in blue foods have been found to increase blood circulation in parts of the brain related to learning, memory and executive function-- the latter of which affects our mood and emotions. And even more amazing, anthocyanins have also been found to cross the blood brain barrier and accumulate in several parts of the brain working their neuroprotective magic.
This special access to our brain cells protects us from damaging substances like environmental toxins and free-radicals that can build up in the brain damaging our memories, motor functions and moods. This effect on moods is significant since depression is linked to an increased risk for dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.
When we consume anthocyanin-rich blue foods, we are providing our precious brains with optimal blood flow and powerful nutrients that fight off stressors that lead not only to the blues, but to major cognitive diseases later in life.
Keep your brain cells and neurotransmitters happy with regular doses of beautiful, blue (and red and pink) foods.
20 Spectacular Blue Foods to Keep in Your Pantry & Fridge
We are all bio-individual so different foods will agree with some more than others. A food on this list may sound good one day and not on the other. Listen to your body and follow your cravings and aversions (as long as they don't lead to sugary treats or cause you to avoid ALL the veggies 😁).
Here is a solid list of some of the BEST anthocyanin-rich blue, purple and red foods to keep in your pantry and fridge throughout the year:
Berries!!! These include: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, acai berries, cranberries, bilberries, elderberries, black currants, maquiberries... any dark colored berries. Frozen or fresh berries will both have loads of anthocyanins.
Red and Purple Grapes
Red Cabbage (hello, stir fries and sauerkraut!)
Blue or Purple Corn or Cornmeal (hello, blue cornbread and blue corn chips!)
Purple and Black Carrots
Purple Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes
Purple Asparagus (or if you can find them, purple Brussels Sprouts)
What's your favorite blue food on this list? What's something new you'd like to try? Let me know in the comments below or comment here on Instagram!
Looking for Some Easy Blue Food Recipes? Try These!
Happy Tummy Beans: 5 Tricks for Degassing and Enjoying Beans (Use Black Beans!)
Aguirre López, L. O., Chávez Servia, J. L., Gómez Rodiles, C. C., Beltrán Ramírez, J. R., & Bañuelos Pineda, J. (2017). Blue Corn Tortillas: Effects on Learning and Spatial Memory in Rats. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 72(4), 448–450. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11130-017-0642-1
Barfoot, K. L., May, G., Lamport, D. J., Ricketts, J., Riddell, P. M., & Williams, C. M. (2019). The effects of acute wild blueberry supplementation on the cognition of 7-10-year-old schoolchildren. European journal of nutrition, 58(7), 2911–2920. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-018-1843-6
Basu, A., , Schell, J., , & Scofield, R. H., (2018). Dietary fruits and arthritis. Food & function, 9(1), 70–77. https://doi.org/10.1039/c7fo01435j
Belwal, T., Nabavi, S. F., Nabavi, S. M., & Habtemariam, S. (2017). Dietary Anthocyanins and Insulin Resistance: When Food Becomes a Medicine. Nutrients, 9(10), 1111. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9101111
Blesso C. N. (2019). Dietary Anthocyanins and Human Health. Nutrients, 11(9), 2107. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11092107
Du, C., Smith, A., Avalos, M., South, S., Crabtree, K., Wang, W., Kwon, Y. H., Vijayagopal, P., & Juma, S. (2019). Blueberries Improve Pain, Gait Performance, and Inflammation in Individuals with Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis. Nutrients, 11(2), 290. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11020290
Fisk, J., Khalid, S., Reynolds, S. A., & Williams, C. M. (2020). Effect of 4 weeks daily wild blueberry supplementation on symptoms of depression in adolescents. The British journal of nutrition, 1–8. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114520000926
Herrera-Sotero, M. Y., Cruz-Hernández, C. D., Oliart-Ros, R. M., Chávez-Servia, J. L., Guzmán-Gerónimo, R. I., González-Covarrubias, V., Cruz-Burgos, M., & Rodríguez-Dorantes, M. (2020). Anthocyanins of Blue Corn and Tortilla Arrest Cell Cycle and Induce Apoptosis on Breast and Prostate Cancer Cells. Nutrition and cancer, 72(5), 768–777. https://doi.org/10.1080/01635581.2019.1654529
Khalid, S., Barfoot, K. L., May, G., Lamport, D. J., Reynolds, S. A., & Williams, C. M. (2017). Effects of Acute Blueberry Flavonoids on Mood in Children and Young Adults. Nutrients, 9(2), 158. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9020158
Kobylewski, S., & Jacobson, M. F. (2012). Toxicology of food dyes. International journal of occupational and environmental health, 18(3), 220–246. https://doi.org/10.1179/1077352512Z.00000000034
Khoo, H. E., Azlan, A., Tang, S. T., & Lim, S. M. (2017). Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Food & nutrition research, 61(1), 1361779. https://doi.org/10.1080/16546628.2017.1361779
Krikorian, R., Nash, T. A., Shidler, M. D., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2010). Concord grape juice supplementation improves memory function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. The British journal of nutrition, 103(5), 730–734. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114509992364
Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Nash, T. A., Kalt, W., Vinqvist-Tymchuk, M. R., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2010). Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 58(7), 3996–4000. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf9029332
Nomi, Y., Iwasaki-Kurashige, K., & Matsumoto, H. (2019). Therapeutic Effects of Anthocyanins for Vision and Eye Health. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(18), 3311. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24183311
Ownby, R. L., Crocco, E., Acevedo, A., John, V., & Loewenstein, D. (2006). Depression and risk for Alzheimer disease: systematic review, meta-analysis, and metaregression analysis. Archives of general psychiatry, 63(5), 530–538. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.63.5.530
Pojer, E., Mattivi, F., Johnson, D. and Stockley, C.S. (2013), The Case for Anthocyanin Consumption to Promote Human Health: A Review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 12: 483-508. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12024
Schell, J., Scofield, R. H., Barrett, J. R., Kurien, B. T., Betts, N., Lyons, T. J., Zhao, Y. D., & Basu, A. (2017). Strawberries Improve Pain and Inflammation in Obese Adults with Radiographic Evidence of Knee Osteoarthritis. Nutrients, 9(9), 949. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9090949
Shukitt-Hale, B., Cheng, V. & Joseph, J.A. (2009) Effects of blackberries on motor and cognitive function in aged rats,Nutritional Neuroscience,12:3,135-140,DOI: 10.1179/147683009X423292
Thiraphatthanavong, P., Wattanathorn, J., Muchimapura, S., Thukham-Mee, W., Wannanon, P., Tong-un, T., Suriharn, B. & Lertrat, K. (2014). Preventive Effect of Zea mays L. (Purple Waxy Corn) on Experimental Diabetic Cataract. BioMed research international. 2014. 507435. 10.1155/2014/507435.
University of East Anglia. (2019, May 30). Eating blueberries every day improves heart health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190530101221.htm
Wang, L. S., & Stoner, G. D. (2008). Anthocyanins and their role in cancer prevention. Cancer letters, 269(2), 281–290. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.canlet.2008.05.020
Wikipedia. (2020, June 18). Anthocyanin. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthocyanin
Winter, A. N., & Bickford, P. C. (2019). Anthocyanins and Their Metabolites as Therapeutic Agents for Neurodegenerative Disease. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 8(9), 333. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox8090333
About the Author
Roxie Daggett is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) with a virtual practice in Sedona, Arizona. Her passions include studying nutritional research pertaining to memory, brain health, genes and longevity. When she is not geeking out on nutrition she enjoys messing around in the kitchen with old world recipes, reading and hearing stories from elders and farmers about traditional food sourcing, and wandering around the Red Rocks with her heroic husband and Staffordshire bull terrier.
Learn more on her About page and stay in touch by grabbing your FREE BRAIN HEALTH
BREAKFAST GUIDE above or below!