Greetings from Las Vegas: Plant Pigments

First, kites…just for fun.
Yesterday’s symposiums at the IFT12 conference were really good. My morning started with “Anthocyanins: A Colorful Array of Health Promoting Properties.” Anthocyanins are members of the flavonoid group, one of the groups of natural chemical compounds in many plants that have the potential to fight chronic inflammation, cellular oxidative stress and many of the chronic diseases that evolve from those problems (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, loss of cognitive function, certain cancers). They are also the compounds that give many fruits and vegetables their vivid colors (think berries, cherries, radishes, and so on). So eat your fruits and veggies!
After that was “Solving the Fatty Acid Puzzle for Health, Function and New Labels.” It addressed the whole low-fat diets vs. moderate healthy fats diets issue. It also talked a lot about the Mediterranean diet, bestill my beating heart. A big chunk of the talk paralleled what I’ve been writing about lately (for class papers, my Times column, this blog), about how a healthy diet isn’t about just a few foods or nutrients–it’s about a whole balanced, healthy dietary pattern.
I was smarter about meals today. I bought an overpriced (but really delicious) fruit plate from another coffee place in my hotel before going to Starbucks for coffee (Komodo Dragon blend…love it!). I enjoyed those with a Lara Bar I brought from home (one of the few bar brands I eat). Whilst at Starbucks, I picked up one of their little chicken breast, hummus and veggie plates to get some decent protein and minimal veg in me at lunch. I rounded that out with a carefully chosen selection of samples in the Food Expo hall.
After lunch was more anthocyanins, this time “Current Issue: Coloring Alternatives to Azo Colors.” Azo colors refer to a group of synthetic coloring compounds that have an “azo” functional group attached to them (sorry if that’s too much chemistry…or not enough). They have been sort of linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in that they may make symptoms worse in some children with ADHD. The Food and Drug Administration almost decided that foods with azo colors had to carry a warning label; the European Union did decide that. 
So…the pressure is on for the food industry to start switching to natural colorings. This is easier said than done, because azo pigments are extremely vivid (a lot of reds, oranges, yellows and purples) and hard to duplicate naturally. Anthocyanins are the go-to natural pigment, because they also are vivid, and have healthful properties on their own. Trouble is, some of them shift color when exposed to light or heat or a certain pH. Again, it’s not simple, and a lot of food scientists are looking at how it can be done.
After working for about three hours, it was time for fun (when in Vegas…). Even in Vegas, fun starts with a huge salad.