Colorful Foods—Black

If a plant had cognitions, whereby it could think and perceive, it almost assuredly would pay attention to the environmental and predatory insults that bombard it regularly, never thinking that the chemicals it makes to protect itself could likewise benefit its animated aggressors. Plants defend themselves against oxidation, pests, and harmful ultra-violet radiation by making substances that people and animals can borrow to fend off sickness and disease, and to change the way the body reacts to the insults it might receive from bacteria, viruses, and renegade cell division.

“Black foods may be richer in antioxidants than their paler counterparts,” says the September, 2011 edition of Environmental Nutrition.  A class of flavonoids called anthocyanins colors dark foods, including black beans, black carrots, black rice, black quinoa, and a few others.  “Anthocyanins act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, fending off the development of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer,” notes the writer. (Ask EN. Sept. 2011—subscription required)

Few people associate the color black with food, forgetting about blackberries, black currants, and black tea.  Whether these and other foods are really black might be debatable, but science says these foods are rich in substances that offer a host of health benefits.  Black rice, for example, is more purplish than black, but when uncooked looks black.  It’s been highly treasured in Asia for centuries, where it’s been honored for the prevention of cancers, diabetes heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.  (Guo. 2007)  (Ling. 2001)  High in nutritional value, black rice has substantial iron and fiber.

The anthocyanin pigments found in all the black foods have demonstrated the capacity to delay the onset of illness by suppressing the activity of chemicals that promote chronic inflammation and disease, most notably one called nuclear factor-kappa B.  (Karlsen. 2007)  There is speculation that anthocyanins do not remain intact once inside the body since they may be treated as alien compounds, but that they do their work by initiating multiple other mechanisms, such as cell signaling, increases in uric acid, and precise gene expression, particularly in matters of cancer and heart disease. (Wrolstad. 2001)   (Stauth. 2007)

Superior protein and amino acid balance, and high levels of calcium, phosphorus, iron, most B vitamins, zinc and lysine characterize black quinoa, a grain reputed as a high-endurance food from the Andes.  It’s possible that quinoa provides more essential nutrients than any other single food.  (Ruales. 1992)  Black beans have been shown to provide nutritional support to the digestive system, especially the colon.  It appears to be the ideal mix of substances for allowing colonic bacteria to produce butyric acid, the fuel for many beneficial bacterial activities, lowering the risk for colon cancer among them.  (Hangen. 2002)  Black lentils and black soybeans are other legumes with remarkable health benefits.  Because legumes lack the amino acid methionine, it’s a good idea to combine them with a grain, which lacks lysine, to get all the essential amino acids.  Soybeans are the exception, since they have a complete amino acid profile, as does the grain, quinoa.  Black soy promotes apoptosis in prostate hyperplasia and certain gastric cancer cells, and reduces prostate weight.  (Jang. 2010) (Zou. 2011)

There are more black foods than we have the means to address here, but we can’t omit the berries.  Overwhelming evidence suggest that berries, in general, have beneficial effects against several types of human cancers.  While we know about the anthocyanins, there may be unidentified compounds that have, or initiate, activities that fight cancer.  They work by counteracting and repairing damage resulting from oxidative stress and inflammation, and are able to regulate carcinogenic and xenobiotic pathways.  Being able to sensitize tumors to chemotherapy, blackberries enhance such therapy.  (Seeram. 2008)

The shade of black upon a shiny white plate is a dramatic presentation, but what it portends for the body is even more so.  For foods that can be frozen or otherwise stored when out of season, it’ll pay to stock up when you can.

Dramatic Nutrition in Black Foods Chefs know that the deep, glossy shade of say black quinoa or black rice can do wonders for the visual appeal of a meal. But are there any nutritional rewards that come along with this elegant color palette? It seems like brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as scarlet tomatoes and verdant spinach get all of the attention in the nutrition world. But you might be surprised to find out that the color black is a calling card for a plant’s health-protective nutrient load.

Guo H, Ling W, Wang Q, Liu C, Hu Y, Xia M, Feng X, Xia X Effect of anthocyanin-rich extract from black rice (Oryza sativa L. indica) on hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance in fructose-fed rats. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2007 Mar;62(1):1-6.

Ling WH, Cheng QX, Ma J, Wang T. Red and black rice decrease atherosclerotic plaque formation and increase antioxidant status in rabbits. J Nutr. 2001 May;131(5):1421-6.

Karlsen A, Retterstøl L, Laake P, Paur I, Kjølsrud-Bøhn S, Sandvik L, Blomhoff R. Anthocyanins inhibit nuclear factor-kappaB activation in monocytes and reduce plasma concentrations of pro-inflammatory mediators in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2007 Aug;137(8):1951-4.

Ronald E. Wrolstad, Ph.D. The Possible Health Benefits of Anthocyanin Pigments and Polyphenolics  May 2001

David Stauth Studies force new view on biology of flavonoids Public release date: 5-Mar-2007

Ruales J, Nair B Nutritional quality of the protein in quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, Willd) seeds. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1992 Jan;42(1):1-11.

Hangen L, Bennink MR Consumption of black beans and navy beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) reduced azoxymethane-induced colon cancer in rats. Nutr Cancer. 2002;44(1):60-5.

Jang H, Ha US, Kim SJ, Yoon BI, Han DS, Yuk SM, Kim SW. Anthocyanin extracted from black soybean reduces prostate weight and promotes apoptosis in the prostatic hyperplasia-induced rat model. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Dec 22;58(24):12686-91.

Zou Y, Chang SK. Effect of black soybean extract on the suppression of the proliferation of human AGS gastric cancer cells via the induction of apoptosis. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 May 11;59(9):4597-605.

Seeram NP. Berry fruits for cancer prevention: current status and future prospects. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Feb 13;56(3):630-5.

Navindra P. Seeram Berry Fruits: Compositional Elements, Biochemical Activities, and the Impact of Their Intake on Human Health, Performance, and Disease J. Agric. Food Chem., 2008, 56 (3), pp 627–629

Wada L, Ou B. Antioxidant activity and phenolic content of Oregon caneberries. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Jun 5;50(12):3495-500.

Thomasset S, Teller N, Cai H, Marko D, Berry DP, Steward WP, Gescher AJ. Do anthocyanins and anthocyanidins, cancer chemopreventive pigments in the diet, merit development as potential drugs? Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2009 Jun;64(1):201-11.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.