Purple fruits and veggies can protect against diabetes, study reveals

TURKU, Finland — It turns out you may want to not only eat more vegetables but single out the purple ones! Red and purple fruits and vegetables like blueberries and strawberries contain pigments called anthocyanins, which may help ward off diabetes, according to researchers from the University of Turku in Finland. The study authors note that purplish tubers (potatoes) are particularly good for your health.

It turns out that these pigments can reduce the risk of diabetes by acting on energy metabolism, gut microbiota, and inflammation. This is a welcomed finding, especially considering the prevalence of the condition worldwide. According to the CDC, just over 37 million Americans suffer from diabetes. Moreover, close to 96 million adults over 18 have prediabetes, and they might not even know that they do. The effect observed in this research was even greater among foods containing acylated anthocyanin, meaning that a chemical acyl group is added to the sugar molecules of anthocyanin. Acylated varieties are abundant in foods like purple potatoes, radishes, purple carrots, and red cabbages.

“The plant’s genotype defines what kind of anthocyanins they produce. In general, purple vegetables contain many acylated anthocyanins. Also, purple potatoes, especially the Finnish variety called ‘Synkeä Sakari’, is abundant in acylated anthocyanins,” says postdoctoral researcher Kang Chen from the Food Sciences Unit at the University of Turku in a media release.

bunch of carrots on white plate
A great amount of acylated anthocyanins can be found in purple potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, radishes, purple carrots and red cabbages. (Photo by Nik on Unsplash)

Foods like bilberries and mulberries contain mostly nonacylated anthocyanins. Although acylation makes it more difficult to absorb during digestion, this isn’t a particularly bad thing, as they have other great functions that make them beneficial to health. These anthocyanins have probiotic properties that allow them to improve and maintain the health of the intestinal lining. They also can suppress inflammation in the body and regulate glucose and lipid metabolic pathways, which all works together to lower risk of diabetes more effectively than its non-acylated counterpart.

“The studies have shown that, in addition to changing physical and chemical properties, the acylation affects how the anthocyanins are absorbed and metabolised,” says Chen.

Fresh Red Cabbage Leaves on Wooden Plate
The red, purple and blue pigments in fruits, vegetables, and tubers called anthocyanins can reduce the risk of diabetes. (Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels)

Acylated compounds move through the body, starting at the upper gastrointestinal tract and traveling down to the colon. Once they reach the colon, gut microbes break down and metabolize them. The researchers also add that glucose transporters involved in absorbing anthocyanins are different depending on if the compounds are acylated or not.  The structural differences also lead to varying impacts on the enzymes themselves that are involved in the metabolic processes.

“The latest research has shown that the acylated and nonacylated anthocyanins can impact Type 2 diabetes in different ways,” Chen concludes.

The findings are published in the journal American Chemical Society.

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Lea la versión en español en EstudioRevela.com: Las frutas y verduras moradas pueden proteger contra la diabetes, revela un estudio.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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