Betalains are a family of natural pigments present in most plants of the order Caryophyllales. They provide colors ranging from yellow to violet to structures that in other plants are colored by anthocyanins. These include not only edible fruits and roots but also flowers, stems, and bracts. The recent characterization of different bioactivities in experiments with betalain containing extracts and purified pigments has renewed the interest of the research community in these molecules used by the food industry as natural colorants. Studies with multiple cancer cell lines have demonstrated a high chemopreventive potential that finds in vitro support in a strong antiradical and antioxidant activity. Experiments in vivo with model animals and bioavailability studies reinforce the possible role played by betalains in the diet. This work provides a critical review of all the claimed biological activities of betalains, showing that the bioactivities described might be supported by the high antiradical capacity of their structural unit, betalamic acid. Although more investigations with purified compounds are needed, the current evidences suggest a strong health-promoting potential.
Keywords: Antiradical; biological activity; cancer; diet; review.