What are anthocyanins, and where are they used?
Anthocyanins, E163, are natural pigments found in fruits and plants that give them vibrant colours like red, purple, or blue. Examples of anthocyanin-rich foods include berries (such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries), grapes, cherries, plums, red cabbage, eggplant, and red wine. Hence you may see grape skin and/or blackcurrant extract in the market as they are concentrated sources of anthocyanins .
For visual appeal and to replace synthetic dyes, industries may take advantage of these vibrant colours. In the food industry, we may see them used to colour fruit juices, jams, yoghurts, ice creams, candies, and baked goods to enhance visual appeal and replace synthetic dyes. In the cosmetic industry, anthocyanins are utilised in products such as lipsticks, blushes, eyeshadows, and natural hair dyes .
Purported Health Benefits
Strong Antioxidants: Anthocyanins act like superheroes in our bodies, fighting against harmful molecules called free radicals. By neutralising these free radicals, anthocyanins help protect our cells from damage, and reduce our risks of developing chronic diseases [1-2].
Reducing Inflammation: Anthocyanins may reduce inflammation, which is our body's natural response to injury or illness. When inflammation is uncontrollably excessive i.e., chronic, it can lead to diseases like heart disease and diabetes. By reducing inflammation, anthocyanins may help keep our bodies in better balance [1, 3-4].
Cardiovascular Support: Anthocyanins may improve blood vessel function, lower blood pressure, and increase the levels of "good" (HDL) cholesterol in our bodies. These effects support normal blood flow to and from the heart, thus may lower the risk of heart disease [1, 3-4].
Brain Boost: Some studies suggest that anthocyanins may support cognitive function through enhancing memory, learning, and overall brain function [3, 4]. This includes possibly protecting our brains from age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's [3, 4].
Potential Anti-Cancer: Although more research is needed, early studies indicate that anthocyanins may slow down the growth of cancer cells, induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells, and suppress tumour formation [1, 3-4].
Recommendations for Safe Consumption
Variety is Key: If unsure, go for diversity! Explore a diverse range of anthocyanin-rich foods to benefit from different types and concentrations of anthocyanins. Include fruits like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, as well as vegetables like red cabbage and eggplant.
Balanced Diet: Remember that anthocyanins are just one part of a healthy diet. Maintain a well-balanced eating plan that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods, including whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats.
Fresh and Frozen Options: Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of anthocyanins. However, frozen options can be just as nutritious since anthocyanins are well-preserved during the freezing process . This allows for convenient year-round access to anthocyanin-rich foods, without relying on seasonality.
Cooking Considerations: While anthocyanins are sensitive to heat and light, some cooking methods can still retain their benefits. Steaming or lightly sautéing fruits and vegetables at a certain extent may still preserve the integrity of anthocyanins [6-7]. However, overly prolonged cooking or high temperatures may result in anthocyanin degradation .
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Speer H, D’Cunha NM, Alexopoulos NI, McKune AJ, Naumovski N. Anthocyanins and human health—A focus on oxidative stress, inflammation and disease. Antioxidants. 2020 Apr 28;9(5):366.
Ma Z, Du B, Li J, Yang Y, Zhu F. An insight into anti-inflammatory activities and inflammation related diseases of anthocyanins: A review of both in vivo and in vitro investigations. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2021 Oct 14;22(20):11076.
Panchal SK, John OD, Mathai ML, Brown L. Anthocyanins in chronic diseases: The power of purple. Nutrients. 2022 May 23;14(10):2161.
Syamaladevi RM, Sablani SS, Tang J, Powers J, Swanson BG. Stability of anthocyanins in frozen and freeze‐dried raspberries during long‐term storage: in relation to glass transition. Journal of food science. 2011 Aug;76(6):E414-21.
Hong KH, Koh E. Effects of cooking methods on anthocyanins and total phenolics in purple‐fleshed sweet potato. Journal of Food Processing and Preservation. 2016 Oct;40(5):1054-63.
Surh J, Koh E. Effects of four different cooking methods on anthocyanins, total phenolics and antioxidant activity of black rice. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2014 Dec;94(15):3296-304.
Aprodu I, Milea ȘA, Enachi E, Râpeanu G, Bahrim GE, Stănciuc N. Thermal degradation kinetics of anthocyanins extracted from purple maize flour extract and the effect of heating on selected biological functionality. Foods. 2020 Nov 3;9(11):1593.
We do our best to source robust information from a number of credible sources. There is, however, a large amount of information on various aspects of nutritional elements along with claims in terms of their contribution to helping in body health which may contradict the above.