Anthocyanins: What They Are and How They Relate to Cardiovascular Health

Anthocyanins have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that have an impact on heart function, reducing the risk of disease.
Anthocyanins: What They Are and How They Relate to Cardiovascular Health
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 18 April, 2023

Antioxidants are essential substances to ensure the proper functioning of the human body. In this sense, it’s important to provide different types of these elements to neutralize the formation of free radicals. Next up, we’re going to talk about a type of them, anthocyanins, which are capable of influencing the efficiency of the cardiovascular system.

When planning a good diet, it’s essential to take care to include a wide variety of nutrients and foods. The same happens with antioxidants, as not all of them have the same potency or act on the same tissues.

What are anthocyanins?

Anthocyanins are a group of substances that are included within the group of phytonutrients. They’re pigments responsible for the dark color of some fruits, such as blueberries or cherries. In addition, they have a high antioxidant power, according to research published in the journal Molecules.

This power has two basic consequences. The first is the ability to modulate inflammatory levels. The second is to neutralize the formation of free radicals, with all the positive health effects that result and have been evidenced.

What are the benefits of consuming anthocyanins?

A regular intake of anthocyanins has been claimed to carry a number of health benefits. Some of them have to do with the functioning of the cardiovascular system.

It has been shown that the contribution of these phytonutrients manages to reduce the oxidation rate of the VLDL lipoprotein, which has a positive impact on the risk of developing atherosclerotic plaques. In parallel, these elements are also capable of reducing blood pressure, thus generating a more efficient functioning of the cardiovascular system, as evidenced by recent research published in the journal Nutrients.

In addition to their impact on the cardiovascular system, anthocyanins are capable of reducing the risk of suffering from other types of complex pathologies. Tumors are related to a failure in the regulation of cell production. These errors take place from DNA mutations, conditioned on many occasions by an increase in the concentration of reactive oxygen species.

In this sense, the contribution of anthocyanins and other antioxidants has shown to be capable of preventing the development of certain types of tumors. These phytonutrients are capable of inhibiting or slowing down the proliferation of certain malignant cells.

Red fruits with anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins are pigments present in red fruits, giving them their characteristic color.

Guidelines to improve the functioning of the cardiovascular system

In addition to increasing the consumption of anthocyanins, there are other types of nutritional strategies that can improve the functioning of the cardiovascular system. The priority is to impact on the lipid profile and on the risk of developing pathologies related to the heart.

In this sense, the priority is to increase the consumption of fresh foods, to the detriment of ultra-processed industrial foods. The latter have a large amount of added sugars, trans fats, and additives capable of altering blood pressure values and metabolic health.

It’s beneficial to emphasize the contribution of fatty acids. Especially those of the unsaturated type, which have shown their potential in reducing inflammation of blood vessels. Among them, those in the omega 3 series stand out, and these are present in olive oil, avocado, and oily fish.

However, it’s always preferable to avoid subjecting fats to high temperatures. Aggressive thermal processes change their spatial conformation, which is why they become trans. In this situation, their properties are also altered.

How to include anthocyanins in the diet?

We have already mentioned that to improve our state of health it’s beneficial to increase the contribution of anthocyanins. This can be done in two ways: through food or through dietary supplements.

Both berries such as cherries, pomegranates, and even grapes have these antioxidants in their composition. Red cabbage, beets, eggplant, and red onion are also capable of providing this type of phytonutrients.

We advise you, therefore, to introduce these vegetables into your main dishes. At the same time, you can include a handful of red fruits in desserts or snacks to complete the intake. Keep in mind that these foods can be obtained fresh, but also frozen.

Antioxidants to complement anthocyanins

In addition to increasing the intake of anthocyanins in your diet, we recommend that you introduce another series of flavonoids and phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities. Spices stand out above all, such as turmeric or curry.

It’s also a good option to use vegetables with bright colors. Tomatoes, for example, have a highly powerful phytonutrient: lycopene. This substance isn’t only beneficial in terms of reducing cardiovascular risk, but its effects have also been shown to delay cell reproduction in the prostate.

It’s even possible to introduce cruciferous vegetables into the diet. This class of vegetables has a series of substances recommended to combat inflammation of the lungs.

Foods to avoid to look after heart health

In order to prevent acute and chronic pathologies related to the cardiovascular system, it’s necessary to take into account not only the foods that are beneficial, but also those that are harmful. We have already talked about the effects of ultra-processed foods on heart function and inflammation.

But there are other common consumer products than can harm us. One of them is alcohol, a socially accepted poison. This substance isn’t only able to alter cognitive functioning, but also has an impact on blood pressure values.

Traditionally, wine intake has been linked to a better functioning cardiovascular system. This property was attributed to its tannin and anthocyanin content from grapes. However, it wasn’t taken into account that, during the fermentation process, these nutrients were oxidized, reducing their effects.

In addition, it’s necessary to highlight the need to balance the intake of omega-3 acids with that of omega-6 acids. Both fats are located within the group of unsaturated fats, which is why they’re considered beneficial. However, the omega-6 intake is usually three or four times that of omega-3, which can increase systemic inflammation.

Therefore, in order to keep inflammatory processes at bay, it’s best to guarantee a balanced consumption of both. Keep in mind that omega 6s are found in seed oils, eggs, and even various animal products.

Healthy eating for the heart.
Just as there are foods that are favorable for cardiovascular health, others are not so favorable and should be avoided or reduced.

Include anthocyanins in the diet

As we’ve mentioned, anthocyanins are a series of substances capable of generating health benefits due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity. They act on the cardiovascular system, but also on many other organs, thus improving their functions.

Keep in mind that they’re found in all foods of plant origin with a red, purple, or pink color. However, it’s always preferable to resort to consuming these products raw, since oxidation, high temperatures, and cooking processes with water could affect their chemical stability.

You have to take into account another series of considerations if you want to take care of heart health. Reducing the consumption of ultra-processed foods and increasing that of fresh foods is an effective strategy, as is restricting alcohol intake.

To further amplify the function of anthocyanins, try combining these phytonutrients with others from different plant foods. An example of these could be lycopene or curcumin, present in tomato and turmeric, respectively.

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