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Anthocyanins are a group of antioxidants found in red, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables (1).

They belong to the flavonoid family — the same family as the antioxidants found in wine, tea, and dark chocolate (2).

Flavonoids are part of a larger group of antioxidants known as polyphenols, which are believed to help prevent or treat health conditions connected to inflammation and oxidative stress. These conditions include cancer, heart disease, and age-related mental decline (3, 4).

Foods containing anthocyanins have been used in natural remedies for generations. Studies increasingly support their purported health benefits (1).

Anthocyanins extracted from plants are also commonly used as dyes, natural food colorants, and food additives. For instance, the commercial additive E163 is most commonly derived from grape skin and used to add a purple color to jam, candies, and beverages (1).

SUMMARY

Anthocyanins are a group of antioxidants found in red, purple, and blue veggies and fruits. They’re commonly used as natural dyes but may also provide health benefits.

Red, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables typically boast the highest amount of anthocyanins. The following foods contain the most anthocyanins per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (5):

  • Mulberries: 1.4–704mg
  • Black chokeberries: 46–558mg
  • Black elderberries: 17–463mg
  • Black currents: 25–305mg
  • Sweet cherries: 7–143mg
  • Blackberries: 10–139mg
  • Lingonberries: 4–49mg
  • Strawberries: 4–48mg
  • Sour cherries: 3–44mg
  • Red raspberries: 5–38mg
  • Black grapes: 3–39mg
  • Feathers: 5–34mg
  • Blueberries: 11–26mg
  • Black beans: 1–15mg
  • Red currents: 2–11mg
  • Redwine: 4–10mg
  • Red onions: 7mg

Other anthocyanin-rich foods include purple corn, pomegranate, eggplant, black carrots, red cabbage, and purple cauliflower, which may provide anywhere from a few to 200–300 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (6).

The anthocyanin content of these foods varies so widely because growing area, climate, season, light exposure, harvest time, and storing temperature all affect antioxidant content (6).

Amounts may also depend on whether foods are fresh, frozen, or dried — the last of which typically has the lowest anthocyanin content (7).

To maximize your intake of anthocyanins from these foods, eat them raw and at their ripest if possible.

SUMMARY

Red, blue, and purple produce is generally the richest in anthocyanins. Raw, ripe varieties tend to have the highest amounts due to variability in this nutrient.

Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties, meaning that they fight damaging compounds called free radicals.

When free radicals accumulate in your body, they cause oxidative stress. In turn, this oxidative stress leads to inflammation and may increase your risk of chronic ailments, such as cancer and heart disease (3, 4).

Antioxidants like anthocyanins thus help reduce oxidative stress and disease risk.

May reduce inflammation

Anthocyanins are also believed to help reduce inflammation (3, 4).

In a 12-week study in 169 people with high cholesterol, supplementing with 320 mg of anthocyanins twice per day significantly reduced markers of inflammation (8).

Plus, in a 4-week study, people with and without overweight or obesity who took 320 mg of anthocyanins daily had significantly lower blood markers of inflammation (9).

Additionally, one study suggests that these compounds may help reduce inflammation and pain in people with inflammatory arthritis (10).

Since chronic inflammation may cause several chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, regularly eating anthocyanin-rich foods may help protect you from these (11).

May protect against type 2 diabetes

Regularly eating foods that are rich in anthocyanins may safeguard against type 2 diabetes.

In fact, one review suggests that people who regularly eat these foods have a 15% lower risk of this condition. Furthermore, adding as little as 7.5 mg of anthocyanins to your daily diet may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by 5% (12).

To put this into perspective, 7.5 mg of anthocyanins amounts to an additional 1–2 ounces (30–60 grams) of berries, cherries, eggplant, or red cabbage each day (5, 6).

In addition, several human studies suggest that anthocyanins may reduce inflammation and improve glucose tolerance, which is your body’s ability to manage high blood sugar levels. Both of these benefits may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes (11).

A few studies further suggest that anthocyanin supplements may improve your body’s ability to recognize and use insulin, thereby preventing blood sugar levels from spiking. However, other studies find no effect (11, 13).

Despite promising results, further human studies are needed.

May reduce your risk of certain cancers

Few studies have examined the anticancer effects of anthocyanins specifically.

However, anthocyanins are classified as flavonoids, a group of antioxidants believed to have strong cancer-fighting abilities (14, 15).

In fact, the evidence behind flavonoids’ anticancer benefits is strong enough to have led to natural cancer treatments being developed based on these antioxidants.

These alternative treatments are less aggressive than conventional cancer drugs and appear to be especially helpful when combined with chemotherapy (14).

Like other flavonoids, anthocyanins may fight free radicals, lower inflammation, and prevent DNA damage — all factors which may help prevent tumor formation (16).

Anthocyanins may also help prevent cancer cells from multiplying and spreading. For instance, one test-tube study suggests that they may activate certain genes that kill prostate cancer cells (17).

Anthocyanins also appear effective at preventing leukemia and ovarian cancer cells from spreading. What’s more, a review of several studies further suggests that these compounds may reduce your risk of skin cancer (14, 18, 19).

Keep in mind that most studies have been done exclusively in test tubes or animals. Therefore, more research involving humans — in addition to more anthocyanin-specific research — is needed.

May improve heart health

A diet rich in anthocyanins may boost heart health in several ways.

For starters, anthocyanins may help regulate your blood pressure and prevent it from rising.

In a 12-week study, people who drank 6.6 ounces (200 mL) of anthocyanin-rich cherry juice each day saw their systolic and diastolic blood pressure — the top and bottom numbers of a reading — drop by 7.7 and 1.6 mmHg, respectively (20).

In another, those who drank 10 ounces (300 mL) of anthocyanin-rich plum juice daily saw a significant drop in blood pressure that remained 6 hours later. While participants from all age groups experienced this drop, it was most significant in older adults (21).

In addition, anthocyanins may lower triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels (6, 22, 23, 24).

Research further suggests that anthocyanin-rich foods like blueberries, cranberries, and freeze-dried grapes may help increase flow-mediated dilation — a measurement of your blood vessels’ ability to widen — in healthy adults (5, 25).

Finally, one review suggests that diets rich in anthocyanins may reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 9% and your risk of dying from this condition by around 8% (26).

May improve your brain function

Anthocyanins may also benefit your brain.

A recent review of randomized control trials—the gold standard in scientific research—suggests that these compounds boost your memory, attention, and brain processing speed (27).

Several other reviews report similar results.

For instance, a review of seven short- and long-term studies claims that diets rich in anthocyanins may improve verbal learning and memory in children, adults, and older adults with cognitive impairment (28).

Another review of 21 long-term studies suggests that supplementing with flavonoids improves attention, memory, and brain processing speed in healthy adults — as well as memory in children and older adults (29).

Interestingly, some studies suggest that certain components in berries, including anthocyanins, may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (30, 31).

Anthocyanin-rich cherry juice appears to offer similar benefits. In a 12-week study, older adults with mild to moderate dementia saw significant improvements in verbal fluency and short- and long-term memory after drinking 6.6 ounces (200 mL) of cherry juice each day (20).

Other potential benefits

Anthocyanins may offer a few additional benefits:

  • Antimicrobial effects. One test-tube study suggests that delphinidin — an anthocyanin pigment — may help fight infections from the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (1).
  • UV protection. Test-tube studies suggest that anthocyanin pigments may safeguard your skin from UVB rays (1).
  • Weightloss. One study in women found that those who followed diets richest in anthocyanin had significantly less body and belly fat than those who followed diets lowest in this compound (32).

However, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

What’s more, in the case of weight loss, it remains unclear whether anthocyanins or some other compound in anthocyanin-rich foods caused the effect.

SUMMARY

The strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential of anthocyanins may benefit your brain and heart, as well as reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

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