Red cabbage contains 36 different varieties of anthocyanins, a class of flavonoids that have been linked to cancer protection, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Anthocyanins are naturally occurring pigments that give fruits and berries their red, blue and purple coloration. A variety of studies have shown that in addition to protecting against cancer, anthocyanins can improve heart health and brain function. Another recent laboratory study by the ARS found that some varieties of anthocyanin have twice the antioxidant effect of vitamin C. The effects of those different antioxidants in the human body have not yet been tested.

In the current study, researchers fed 12 volunteers a carefully controlled diet that contained either 2/3, 1 1/3 or 2 cups of cooked red cabbage per meal. The volunteers ate two meals per day for three days. The researchers found that participants absorbed the most anthocyanins when eating the largest serving of cabbage. In addition, they identified 36 different varieties of the chemical in the vegetable, eight more than were previously known.

Another recent study, conducted by Japanese researchers, found that anthocyanins modify the functioning of fat cells and may help fight the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, including hyperglycemia, high blood pressure, central obesity, lowered HDL ("good") cholesterol and elevated triglyceride levels.
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