Christine M. Palumbo, M.B.A., R.D.

Chefs have turned to the chic shade of black to infuse drama across a stark, white dinner plate. They 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.

Food scientists discovered that many dark foods are colored by naturally occurring pigments called anthocyanins, which are a class of flavonoids found in plants. These anthocyanins, which also lend blueberries their deep blue color, protect the plant against oxidation, pests, and harmful UV radiation; and some of the health benefits are passed on to you when you bite into their dark flesh. 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. And that's not all; many black foods contain other phytochemicals (see page 1 "Phytochemicals Fight Disease") such as the polyphenols found in black tea and dark chocolate that offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Emerging evidence indicates that black foods may be even richer in antioxidants than their paler counterparts. For example, in a 2009 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the phytochemical composition of 18 colored seed coat soybeans were analyzed by researchers from the University of Maryland. They discovered that black seed coat soybeans had the highest levels of polyphenols, isoflavones (plant estrogens linked with heart health and cancer protection,) total antioxidant capacity, and cyanidin-3-glucoside -- a potent anthocyanin that scientists believe may be one of the most promising of the bunch.

Let your diet sparkle with more deep-colored foods. Top salads and wraps with black beans; switch to black rice as a side dish, sip on black tea or espresso, treat yourself to a small piece (one ounce) of dark chocolate, use black quinoa in pilafs, and eat blackberries and black popcorn as a healthy, whole plant-based snack.

Paint Your Plate Black

Here's a sampling of our favorite black plant foods:

Black beans, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils

Black rice, quinoa


Black raspberries, cherries, currants

Black garlic, pepper, olives

Black popcorn, seaweed

Black sesame seeds, walnuts

Black tea or espresso (coffee)

Dark chocolate









Health - The Dramatic Nutrition in Black Foods