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story.lead_photo.caption In this March 2011, photo, Jake Polson works in the fruit and vegetable department at a Kroger Co. supermarket in Cincinnati. Photo by The Associated Press

This time of year, fresh fruits and vegetables are widely available. The seasonal discounts on healthy foods are great motivation to add a few new items to your regular shopping choices. However, it is also possible to improve joint pain, allergies and other inflammatory conditions by choosing anthocyanin-rich foods.

What are anthocyanins? These are flavonoids and bioflavonoids found on the skins of richly colored fruits and vegetables. Deep blues, purples, reds and oranges have the highest amounts of these bioflavonoids.

It is important to choose fruits and vegetables which have an ediable outer covering. These health-altering compounds are housed in the skins or peels as a protectant for the plant against ultraviolet light, cold temperatures and drought. That is great for the plant, but how does that translate to human health?

Scientific research studies have shown eating anthocyanin-rich strawberries and blueberries once weekly was associated with a significant reduction in death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary artery disease. Another group of studies showed anthocyanins reduced hypertension in people with high-stress workplaces. Lower blood pressure, more flexible arteries and some reduction in cholesterol associated with anthocyanins means a healthy cardiovascular system for you. And the benefits don't stop there.

Additional research has discovered connections between lower cancer risks in people with a predisposition for several types of cancer. In studies, anthocyanins act as antioxidants, and they also activate detoxifying enzymes; prevent cancer cell proliferation; induce cancer cell death (apoptosis); have anti-inflammatory effects; have antiangiogenesis effects (they inhibit the formation of new blood vessels that encourage tumor growth); prevent cancer cell invasion; and induce differentiation (the more differentiated the cancer cell, the less likely it is to grow and spread).

If that were not enough, research has also discovered anthocyanins have the ability to cross the blood brain barrier. This opened the door for studies to document the benefits of improving cognitive function. The flavonoids found in fruit and fruit juices can improve memory and slow age-related loss of cognitive functioning by reducing neuroinflammation, improving blood flow to the brain and activating synaptic signaling working memory and stimulating reasoning.

Inflammation is the underlying cause to many health ailments. Why not fight back with a bowl of blueberries? Or perhaps you prefer a brightly colored stir-fry? Just remember: the deeper the color, the greater the benefit.

Dr. Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.

Summer Vegetable Ratatouille

2 onions, sliced into thin rings

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium eggplant, cubed

2 zucchini, cubed

2 medium yellow squash, cubed

2 green bell peppers, seeded and cubed

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

1 chopped red bell pepper

4 Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

4 sprigs fresh thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft.

In a large skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and saute the zucchini in batches until slightly browned on all sides. Remove the zucchini and place in the pot with the onions and garlic.

Saute all the remaining vegetables one batch at a time, adding 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet each time you add a new set of vegetables. Once each batch has been sauteed, add them to the large pot as was done in step 2.

Season with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaf and thyme and cover the pot. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and parsley to the large pot, and cook another 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Remove the bay leaf and adjust seasoning. Serve. (Leftovers of this dish freeze well).

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