Sesame Street taught us how to count, how to share, and how to positively demolish a plateful of cookies. But the shaggy blue Cookie Monster has embraced healthier foods these days, like this smoothie featuring a trinity of foods for longevity: berries, beets, and cauliflower — and not a moment too soon.
Eating your colors is the perfect way to reap loads of antioxidants and polyphenols, and while orange, red, and deep green are easy to add to your diet, blue foods are the (nutrition) bomb. It’s no wonder Cookie Monster looks so good for 55. The fact that your fitness age is more important than your chronological age may also be a factor. Beyond eating the rainbow, there are other (not so secret) secrets to living longer (people in Blue Zones are living to be 100+!), such as regular yoga practice for longevity.
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Foods for Longevity: Why Are Blue Foods So Good For You?
Blue and purple foods — especially the most famous among them, blueberries — are perhaps the most potent antioxidant-laden food group. Their blue pigment comes from anthocyanins, an antioxidant that contains naturally occurring polyphenols. The darker the fruit or vegetable, the more pigment it contains. Blueberries, for example, contain 15 different anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins’ power comes from how they relate to free radicals. Free radicals cause the body to be under constant oxidative stress because they’re always scavenging for free electrons to pair up with, and when they are unable to find their match, they cause damage to the body’s systems. Anthocyanins work by donating an electron to free radicals, allowing them to become harmless molecules before they can do damage to the body. (Kind of like tossing an overzealous guard dog a bone.)
It’s for this reason, according to Dr. Becky Campbell, a board-certified doctor of natural medicine (DNM), that anthocyanins directly reduce inflammation in the body.
“Blue foods like blueberries and blackberries are packed full of antioxidants making them excellent for optimal health,” says Dr. Campbell. “These foods are also great for reducing inflammation in the body, and with inflammation being at the root of nearly all disease, it is critical that we consume as many anti-inflammatory foods as we can.”
What Are the Benefits of Blue Foods?
Since anthocyanins reduce oxidative stress in the body, they also extend our lifespan by reducing long-term damage to the body’s systems, according to Dr. Campbell. Their well-known benefits include:
- Contributing to overall health and fighting off disease-causing free radicals
- Supporting immune health
- Supporting brain health
- Increasing good cholesterol levels (HLD)
- Lowering blood pressure
- Protecting against certain forms of cancer
- Protecting against diabetes
- Warding off colds and flu
What Studies Say About Blue Foods for Longevity
If anthocyanins reduce the oxidative stress that contributes to aging, then it would make sense that blueberries and other fruits and vegetables within this food group would increase longevity. But what does the research say? In fact, according to a number of studies, anthocyanins found in blue foods slow the aging process and reduce instances of disease.
One study published in the February 2012 issue of the journal “Experimental Gerontology” found that blueberry extract extended the mean lifespan of fruit flies by 10 percent. The blueberry extract worked by increasing the expression of genes that increased lifespan and decreasing the expression of genes that sped up the aging process.
Another study published in the December 2016 edition of the journal “Antioxidants” found that blueberries offer a “healthy package” of bioactive compounds that contribute to reducing insulin resistance in humans. Higher blood sugars associated with diabetes can contribute to complications like heart disease and kidney disease.
Memory was also impacted by consumption of anthocyanins. A study published in the April 2010 edition of the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” found that consistent consumption of blueberries may forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration of the brain, slowing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Pass the blueberries, please!
What Are Some Examples on the Blue Foods List?
Purple and blue foods both hold very similar health properties, so enjoy the following foods often:
- Purple cabbage
What Are Some Easy Ways to Add Blue Foods to Your Diet?
Now that you know the health benefits, it’s all about adding them to your diet. Here’s how:
- Add blueberries and blackberries to smoothies and juices or as a topping on yogurt, cottage cheese, or a granola parfait.
- Bake up some delicious vegan and gluten-free blueberry breakfast cookies with protein-rich almond flour and anti-inflammatory cinnamon.
- Slather your favorite baked goods with a homemade blueberry jam.
- Blend up a creamy blueberry-zucchini smoothie with coconut milk and omega-rich hemp.
- Welcome eggplant into your repertoire by making eggplant parmesan, grilled eggplant, or stuffed eggplants. Eggplant stacks made with basil and mozzarella are another delicious option.
- Make a purple cabbage coleslaw as a delicious side or as topping on a veggie sausage dog.
- Roast grapes and add them to a delicious farro salad made with arugula, goat cheese, and caramelized onions.
- Grill plums and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped topping.
Whatever you choose, remember: the darker, the better. So on your next trip to the farmer’s market, seek out those deep blueberries or blackberries, or snag a head of purple cabbage. You’ll be glad you did.
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