Blackberries, plums and eggplant all rich in disease-fighting agents

Deep purple eggplant, plums and blackberries. So elegant and regal in their coloring.

Each is plentiful in the produce aisle these days, and each offers a rich source of health-producing phytochemicals, or nutrients found in specific foods because of their hue.

So as we continue our series about adding color to our plates this year, let's not forget the rich and royal pigment purple.

Deep purple and bluish foods are believed to lower the risk of some cancers, to improve urinary tract health and memory function and to help with the overall aging process.

"These foods contain plant properties ... which have protective properties against a lot of disease," said Cristen Hester, dietetic intern with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Also, adding colors to your plate "gives you variety," she said.

"It gives you a chance to get more than one antioxidant, more than one flavor and a chance to experiment and learn."

For the record, antioxidants are substances that prevent food from spoiling and, within the body, are thought to help prevent disease.

For your purple choices, try a handful of plump blackberries. They are delightful plain, over ice cream or in a cobbler-type dessert with Wisconsin origins that can include other berries as well. See this week's recipe offerings for "Waukau," as chronicled in Cook's Country's newest collection of American recipes, "America's Best Lost Recipes," (2007, America's Test Kitchen).

In addition to being abundant in antioxidants, blackberries are high in fiber. One cup of blackberries provides 7 grams of fiber because of the small edible seeds within the fruit.

"And most Americans aren't getting enough fiber," Hester noted.

Blackberries also contain ellagic acid, which has been found helpful in the battle against colon cancer.

Plums are another deep purple fruit that are yummy to eat alone. But why not try them in an upside down cake that is getting rave reviews on the Web site? There, reviewer after reviewer speaks of how the recipe cannot be messed up and that a cake made with plums alone is as yummy as versions made with combinations of plums and other fruits.

Plums are plentiful in the phytochemical resveratrol, which is being studied as an anti-cancer drug. The trick, Hester said, is finding out how to get the resveratrol to attach directly to cells.

In the meantime, eating your fill of plums is a bonus for your health.

And when shopping for dark purple foods, don't forget the eggplant, which also contains a wide variety of protective properties. Eggplant is good for people living with Type 2 diabetes and for those trying to lower their cholesterol levels.

Hester recommends drizzling fresh slices of eggplant with olive oil or Italian dressing and broiling them under the broiler or grilling them.

She knows that most people love fried eggplant but suggests a healthier option: eggplant parmesan. Or consider the refreshing recipe suggested here from Patricia Wells' "Vegetable Harvest," which recommends steaming slices of Asian eggplant, a slender variety of the fruit. (Yes, eggplant is a fruit, related to the nightshade family). Sprinkle the steamed slices with garlic and drizzle with a homemade buttermilk-thyme dressing before serving.

That's surely a way to beat the last bit of summer heat and add a healthy dish to your growing repertoire of colorful recipes.

• Black currants

• Blueberries

• Elderberries

• Purple asparagus

• Purple cabbage

• Purple figs

• Purple-fleshed potatoes

• Purple grapes

• Purple peppers

• Raisins