“I wuv you cried the little blue man.” These were words of a song by Betty Johnson many years ago. Blue in that song meant sad, but blue in foods means the opposite. It means nature is happy and focused on protecting you.
What are blue foods? These are foods high in pigments called anthocyanins, members of the flavonoid family. These pigments give foods their blue, purple, or red colors. They can be in many fruits (like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries), in flowers (like violets) and in leafy veggies (like purple kale and red cabbage).
Consuming foods rich in anthocyanins is protective. Anthocyanins are broken down into healthy polyphenolic compounds that start being absorbed into your bloodstream as soon as you start chewing and swallowing. They move from the stomach and small intestine, right into your blood stream and then travel throughout your body to protect diverse and distant tissues.
Some polyphenols make it to the kidneys to protect renal tissue against diverse injuries. Some polyphenols make it to the large intestine, your colon, where they’re acted upon by healthy bacteria. This process produces short- chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids like butyrate’s, are the main energy source for the cells that line the colon (colonocytes). Short chain fatty acids also boost colonic immune function. Healthy butyrate’s are robustly produced especially after eating black rice, purple corn, and even black soybeans.
- Fight cancer stem cells (these are the type of cancer cells that cause recurrence and metastasis).
- Eradicate (kill) estrogen positive breast cancer cells.
- Fight oral cancer cells.
- Block blood supply to cancer cells (starve cancer cells by this process called angiogenesis).
- Block cancer’s ability to metastasize (it’s traveling cancer cells that can kill us and blue pigments block these nasty migrations).
- Reduce risk of heart disease (this is a significant killer of both genders of seniors so this is a huge feat for some small food changes).
- Protect the liver, especially help fight fatty liver disease, liver inflammation, and dis-insulinism caused by liver disease. The blue pigments go from the gut to the liver where they undergo extensive first-pass metabolism, all the while promoting health of the cells inside the liver (hepatocytes).
Red and black rice “varietals” contain high amounts of anthocyanins. So does blue corn. But black rice is an Olympic winner. Black rice kills estrogen positive breast cancer cells in the laboratory and in human studies. It blocks blood vessels from feeding tumors. It blocks cancer’s potential invasive actions. Black rice pigment has even been shown to suppress metastasis of human oral cancer type CAL 27. It cooks in a shorter time than regular rice, has a lower glycemic index, and it’s very tasty with a hint of smoke and richness.
I often crush black rice kernels in my coffee grinder and add it to my flax and chia seed muffins. Or I cook some up and add olive and dried tomato pate’ and herbs. Or mix it with a variety of heavenly herbs and serve a tablespoon or two for color and health on the side of any lunch or dinner dish.
In the late summer of 2017, anthocyanins were demonstrated to even fight and help heal osteoporosis. Bone loss appears to be initiated by unhealthy inflammation, and the blue pigments help fight inflammation in our bones!
Because of how anti-inflammatory black rice pigments are, they protect liver, kidney and indirectly, cardiac, tissues. One clinical study reported black rice to be helpful in a case of alcohol withdrawal!
One of the reasons elderberry syrup was often recommended by the family practice I’ve worked with is that the anthocynanin pigments fight inflammation, especially in lung tissue during respiratory illnesses.
In a mice studies, anthocyanins from black rice boosted immune system response in leukemia experimental models.
In certain geographical regions where rice is a staple food, there are low incidences of certain chronic diseases due to the high amount of anthocyanins in the local diet. Oryza sativa japonica is a variety of Dongjin rice. This is the parent plant of resveratrol-enriched rice. It’s been reported to have an anti-obesity effect, probably by reducing inflammation but perhaps it has a protective fat cell action, too?
Because of all that blue/red/purple pigments do for us as humans, I am always trying to find tasty ways to consume them. This is my latest delicious recipe for ridiculously red slaw, rich in protective pigments and tasty to the max.
Ridiculously Red Slaw by Berkson
¼ Red Cabbage
Stevia to taste I use about 1 tsp.
½ medium peeled red beet
Handful of parsley
Handful of dandelion greens or spinach
One red kale leaf de-stemmed
½ tsp. granulated garlic
Grate finely cabbage and beet half
Mix all together
Very high in colorful cancer-fighting pigments, this slaw also helps tamp down fatty infiltrated and/or damaged liver cells. Great in a sandwich as a filling, as a side salad, as health in a small dish next to any other dish, on top of stir-fried veggies and/or any organic grass fed meat, even great on top of fish like halibut or salmon.
Optional: add thinly sliced red onions, pickled onions, or dehydrated onions.
Optional: if you don’t like mayo, you can make this with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Optional: take this to another anthocyanin pigment level. Make black rice (also very high in blue anthocyanin pigment) and serve this very red slaw on top of a serving of black rice with oil, garlic, and salt to taste.
Keeps in fridge for two days to enjoy in a variety of ways.
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- Anthocyanins are efficiently absorbed from the small intestine in rats. J Nutr. 2004 Sep;134(9):2275-9.
- Anthocyanins are efficiently absorbed from the stomach in anesthetized rats. J Nutr. 2003 Dec;133(12):4178-82.
- Bioavailability and tissue distribution of anthocyanins in bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) extract in rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Sep 6;54(18):6578-87.
- Phenolic acids, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, antioxidant activity, minerals and their correlations in non-pigmented, red, and black rice. Food Chem. 2018 Jan 15;239:733-741.
- Recent advances on bioactivities of black rice. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2017 Aug 30.
- Anti-metastasis activity of black rice anthocyanins against breast cancer: analyses using an ErbB2 positive breast cancer cell line and tumoral xenograft model. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2014;15(15):6219-25.
· Anthocyanins in black rice, soybean and purple corn increase fecal butyric acid and prevent liver inflammation in high fat diet-induced obese mice. Food Funct. 2017 Aug 9.
- Anthocyanins from black rice (Oryza sativa) promote immune responses in leukemia through enhancing phagocytosis of macrophages in vivo. Exp Ther Med. 2017 Jul;14(1):59-64. doi: 10.3892/etm.2017.4467. Epub 2017 May 17.
- Phenolic acids, flavonoids, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, tocopherols, tocotrienols, γ-oryzanol, and phytic acid. Food Sci Nutr. 2014;2:75–104.