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What are Anthocyanins?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Anthocyanins are water soluble pigments found in many plants. These pigments have several functions in the plant, and they are also of nutritional interest, because they have been linked with nutritional benefits such as cancer prevention. People eat anthocyanins every day, and many people have a diet rich in these pigments.

Depending on pH, anthocyanins can be red, violet, or blue. The bright red color of an apple is due to the presence of anthocyanins, as is the rich blue of a blueberry. These pigments can be found in fruits, stems, and leaves, and their levels may fluctuate. New plant growth, for example, is often tinged red with anthocyanin, with the pigment flushing out as the plant develops and the growth matures.

In plants, one of the key roles of anthocyanins is as a form of sunblock. These dark pigments protect plants from sun damage, and decrease the risk that a plant will be burned or wilted by hot sun. Anthocyanins also act to attract pollinators by acting as bright flags which will be easy for birds, bees, and other organisms to see, which is why many flowers are bright red in color. The antioxidant qualities of anthocyanin pigments also appear to be important to plant health, as oxidation can hurt plants just like it hurts other organisms.

These compounds are among a large family of compounds known as flavonoids. Flavonoids have been fingered in a number of nutritional studies as potential preventative nutrients which could keep people healthier, and some appear to be able to shrink tumors and treat some diseases. Anthocyanins are no exception to the rule, with these pigments having a number of benefits, primarily in their role as antioxidants. Anthocyanin pigments are one reason why fruit is so healthy, and why health claims are made about wines and fruit juices.

Like many of the compounds found in plants, anthocyanins are very complex, and their activities in the body and in plants may be the result of interactions between several different chemicals, which makes it difficult to isolate specific compounds for study. This is one reason why fresh whole fruit is sometimes viewed as nutritionally superior to extracts, juices, and dried fruit products, because whole fruit contains a distinctive balance of nutrients which is difficult to replicate, and the actions of these nutrients are not always known, despite the best efforts of researchers who would like to pin down the health benefits of fruit.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon330051 — On Apr 13, 2013

People should know this so they can know the benefits what they can get from eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

By seag47 — On Sep 18, 2011

I have read that concord grapes and black cherries are both great sources of anthocyanins. So, I’ve started eating both of them as snacks and as dessert.

When I travel for work, I often have to stay overnight in a hotel. I bring cherries and grapes in a cooler to snack on, and I feel much better during my stay than when I used to eat chips and cookies to stifle my hunger.

I love the way that fresh fruit makes me feel inside. I believe that even if I didn’t know how good it was for me, I would still feel energized and clean after eating fruit. This might just be an unknown effect of the high concentration of anthocyanins.

By kylee07drg — On Sep 17, 2011

The amount of anthocyanins in acai berries makes them a great fruit to add to your diet. I don’t like to eat them in berry form, so I buy the juice with heavy pulp. That way, I’m still consuming all parts of the berry, but it is mixed with blueberries, so it tastes better.

I recently read that acai berries have more anthocyanins than a glass of red wine of the same volume. I hate the bitter taste of red wine, so it is very good news to me that I can get more benefits from drinking acai berry juice.

By shell4life — On Sep 17, 2011

I firmly believe that the only way to get all the benefits a fruit has to offer is to eat it fresh. Nature holds such mysteries, and I don’t think we will ever be able to unlock all the wonders it contains. It’s best just to trust and consume.

Who knows exactly why anthocyanins are so good for our health? They may do things for us that scientists don’t even realize or can’t ever prove. It would be a shame to miss out on these mysterious benefits by substituting supplements for the real thing.

Perhaps that’s why they are so much more delicious fresh than dried or frozen. It’s nature’s way of enticing us to eat them.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 16, 2011

I never even thought about plants needing sunblock before. I just assumed they were immune to UV damage.

I am glad that apples and blueberries resist withering. They are both so delicious when they are juicy and ripe.

The only time I have seen an apple with wrinkled skin, it was because it had started to rot. Apple skin is usually so taut and smooth.

In the wintertime when it’s hard to find fresh blueberries, I like to buy the frozen kind and make smoothies out of them. I probably don’t get as many nutrients from them this way, but it’s better than not eating them at all.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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