Move over supergreens, there’s a new superfood in town! Black foods are making waves in nutritional circles for their incredible health benefits. With novel and exciting foods such as black garlic and black rice appearing in trendy eateries and supermarkets, eating black is definitely en vogue.
So What Makes Black Foods So Special?
Anthocyanins are responsible for the dark pigmentation found in black foods. Ranging from red to deep purple to almost black – the darker the hue, the more anthocyanins are present. This is why red and blue berries are lauded for their health benefits; however it turns out that black foods are even richer in these powerful compounds.
Anthocyanins are members of a flavonoid group of phytochemicals that are extensively studied for their contribution to human health. Powerfully antioxidant, one of their most important health benefits is the ability to scavenge free radicals. Free radicals are rogue atoms or atomic groups that have lost at least one electron, forcing them to steal electrons from neighbouring molecules in the hope of stabilising themselves. Unsurprisingly, this can cause havoc in the body, leading to a whole host of health problems. Anthocyanins seek out these groups and donate electrons, stabilising the atoms, protecting cells from damage (oxidative stress) and neutralising free radicals. It is thought that free radical damage plays a major role in cardiovascular disease, cancer, premature aging and many other degenerative diseases that become more prevalent as we age.
Some of the other benefits of anthocyanins include:
Encourages Heart Health
The antioxidant activity of anthocyanins, including the protection of LDL against oxidation, has been demonstrated in a number of studies. Oxidised LDL cholesterol can cause inflammation in the arteries, thus promoting atherosclerosis which in turn increases the chance of heart attack and stroke. These compounds can also protect the heart muscle and blood vessels from oxidative damage, lower blood pressure and increase blood flow, further benefitting cardiovascular health.
Whilst inflammation is a necessary step in the healing process - persistent, low level inflammation is at the root of practically all known chronic health conditions, including everything from rheumatoid arthritis and high cholesterol to dementia. The anti-inflammatory action of anthocyanins is attributed to their regulatory effect on the expression of genes involved in the inflammatory response, as well as their potent antioxidant action.
Plants produce anthocyanins to protect their cells from ultra-violet radiation, disease and sun damage. When foods rich in these phytonutrients are ingested by us humans, the anti-aging benefits are many. As we age, our bodies are less able to defend against free radical damage, one of the major causes of premature aging. Studies show that anthocyanins also protect the DNA, protein and lipids from aging. Anthocyanin rich foods can stop enzymes from destroying collagen, restoring youthful skin and a good collagen supply will also help to prevent age related eye disorders and osteoporosis.
Top 5 Black Foods
Eaten in Asia for thousands of years, Black Rice was once reserved for royalty only – earning it the name “forbidden rice” for centuries. Nowadays this gluten-free rice is easily available to all and is gaining popularity for its incredible health benefits.
This rice contains the highest levels of anthocyanins known in any food, providing a myriad of health benefits. A study published in the “Journal of International Immunopharmacology” reported that the main anthocyanin found in black rice is “CG3”. Highly effective at suppressing inflammation, CG3 is also reported to be one of the most powerful antioxidants in existence, coming out top when tested against 13 other anthocyanins in the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) assay, which tests for antioxidant activity.
When the hull and the bran are removed from rice many important nutrients are lost. Because Black Rice retains this outer shell it retains these many nutrients, including fibre, which allows the sugar from the grain to be absorbed over a longer period of time. This may lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, control weight and will keep the digestive system clean and healthy.
This potent root has all the benefits of yellow and red maca, however it is the anthocyanin content that raises this particular strain of maca into a league of its own. Studies show that Black Maca is the best type of maca to combat fatigue and adrenal stress, whilst the strong antioxidant content can enhance memory and problem solving skills – especially in the elderly. In addition, Black Maca has been shown to have a particularly supportive effect on men’s reproductive health.
Whilst these seeds may be small, they pack a powerful nutritional punch. Black Sesame Tahini is made from un-hulled sesame seeds, protecting the valuable nutrients and antioxidants contained within the outer shell. When the seeds are crushed (as in the making of tahini), these nutrients are more easily digested and absorbed by the body.
Anthocyanin rich and high in healthy fats, this silky smooth paste is also a great source of essential vitamins and minerals.
With an overall anthocyanin content of around 214mg per 100g, Black Turtle Beans are top of the list when it comes to antioxidant rich beans. In addition to providing all the benefits of the potent antioxidants it contains, Black Turtle Beans are considered a Low Glycemic Food, keeping the blood sugar stable and helping to prevent cravings for sweet foods. They are a great source of plant protein, fibre, B vitamins and immune boosting minerals.
Called the “Mushroom of Immortality” by the Siberian Russians, this potent fungi is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the world. Chaga is especially high in a compound called super-oxide dismutase (SOD), this is an enzyme which reduces the damage done to cells by “super-oxide”, the most common free radical in the body. Studies have shown that SOD acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, with researchers now investigating the potential of SOD as an anti-aging treatment as it is known that, as we age, SOD levels drop whilst free radicals increase. Naturally synthesised and with a biological power unmatched, Chaga provides SOD in a highly bioavailable form which can be utilised either topically or internally.
Along with most other medicinal mushrooms Chaga is rich in beta-glucans, compounds that are renowned for their role in activating the immune system and reducing the blood sugar of people who have abnormal blood sugar peaks.