Eat Well to Be Well: It’s a berry good time of year

If a grocery store advertisement reads, “Today’s special: a food low in calories, no fat, full of fiber, may help prevent diseases, aids in weight loss, and tastes delicious,” would you buy it? I would hope so as this ad is talking about one of the most healthful foods nature provides – berries.

Berries are just about the perfect food to eat, whether fresh or frozen, and the variety to choose from is outstanding – blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, cranberries, gooseberries, loganberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

Berries’ special power

Berries have been around as a food source for centuries. Their attractive appearance and delicate burst of sweetness has made them a favorite fruit even today. But, what distinguishes berries from other fruits is their health-boosting ability thanks to their rich and diverse antioxidant power.

Antioxidants reduce damage due to oxygen often caused by free radicals. Antioxidants include ascorbic acid (vitamin C), carotenoids, vitamin E and phenolic compounds, all found in berries – vitamin C and phenolic compounds are particularly abundant. Phenolic compounds include phenolic acids, flavonoids, tannins and resveratrol. Berries’ antioxidant power is that special boost in keeping us healthy.

8 health conditions berries benefit

  1. Alzheimer’s disease – With the expanding aging population, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia will rise in numbers in the coming years. Berries can be one way to help slow or even prevent cognitive decline. Data from the Nurses’ Health Study showed that long-term berry intake led to slower rates of cognitive decline in older adults. Polyphenolics found in berries appear to help clean up damage from the build-up of toxins over time.
  2. Cancer – Don’t let berries’ delicate appearance fool you – they have an arsenal of nutrient grenades to help fight off cancer. The arsenal includes anthocyanins, flavonoids, and ellagic acid. Ellagic acid acts as an antioxidant, helping to deactivate specific carcinogens, and slows the reproduction of cancer cells. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are extremely rich in these compounds. Don’t forget about blackberries as they have been shown to inhibit tumor angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is when new blood vessels form, helping tumors to transition from a benign state to a malignant state. Including more of these dark-colored fruit to your diet may reduce your risk of colon, breast, lung, skin, esophageal and cervical cancers.
  3. Heart disease – A study from the American Heart Association and published in the journal Circulation showed that eating three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries each week reduced the risk of heart attack in women. Blueberries and strawberries contain flavonoids and their bright colors from a sub-class of flavonoids called anthocyanins. Together, these compounds help to dilate arteries, reducing the buildup of plaque, which narrows arteries and reduces blood flow. Consuming other brightly colored berries can provide this same protection, so fill up your plate with the many hues of berries.
  4. Parkinson’s disease – Men and women had a 25 percent reduction of developing Parkinson’s disease if they ate berries two or more times each week, according to a study from the American Academy of Neurology. Flavonoids, once again, is the compound responsible for helping to protect brain cells from damage. Men who consumed berries containing flavonoids benefitted the most by having a 40 percent less likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease.
  5. Weight control – Berries have a real advantage in helping to control weight. Their combination of a high fiber and high water content provides a feeling of fullness or satiety. One cup of blackberries contains 7.6 grams of fiber, one cup of loganberries has 7.8 grams, while raspberries have an impressive 8 grams of fiber in one cup.
  6. Arthritis – Berries play an important role in helping ease the symptoms associated with arthritis. Thanks to their antioxidant strength, eating berries can protect against inflammation and free radicals by turning off the inflammation signals triggered by cytokines and COX-2. Make it a daily habit to eat one-half to one cup of mixed berries to achieve the benefits.
  7. Urinary tract infections – The berry best known for its ability to lower the risk of urinary tract infections (UTI) is the cranberry. Cranberries contain high levels of proanthocyanidins that reduce the adhesion of certain bacteria to the urinary tract walls reducing infections. Drinking 8 ounces of cranberry juice daily may help prevent a UTI and speed recovery if an infection does occur.
  8. Hypertension – The amazing anthocyanin, that powerful antioxidant giving blueberries and strawberries their vibrant color, can also keep your blood vessels free of plaque, allowing for unobstructed blood flow leading to a lowered blood pressure. Include berries of all kinds each day to get the best advantage.

Tips on including more berries in your diet

  • Add sliced strawberries to a bowl of whole grain cereal, stir raspberries into vanilla yogurt or sprinkle blueberries on a salad.
  • Make grilled fruit kabobs that use berries with other fruits such as pineapple chunks, bananas, and grapes.
  • Give ice cream a nutrition boost with berries to increase fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Berries do not always have to be fresh to enjoy: Keep a variety of frozen berries (unsweetened strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) to throw in yogurt or a smoothie made with fat-free or low-fat milk or vanilla Greek yogurt.
  • Dried fruit such as blueberries or cranberries paired with nuts high in healthy fat such as chopped almonds or walnuts make a perfect snack to keep in your desk or at home.

Today, go out and buy yourself some berries. Whether they’re on sale or not, berries are always a bargain for keeping you healthy and preventing disease.


Brain Boosting Berry Recipe

To get you started on adding berries into your life, here’s a “smart smoothie”. Boost brainpower from this delicious mocha-berry smoothie with brain healthy foods – blueberries, cocoa powder, coffee, and walnuts. It’s drinkable but if you’d rather have a pudding consistency, leave in the refrigerator covered for a few hours or overnight; chia seeds will swell giving a gel-like effect, transforming your smoothie into a pudding!

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries, frozen or fresh
1/2 ripe banana, frozen or fresh
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup brewed coffee (room temperature or chilled)
1 teaspoon chia seeds
1/4 cup walnuts
3 to 5 ice cubes

Directions: Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Nutritional analysis per serving:
Calories: 175
Protein: 3 grams
Total fat: 5 grams
Total carbohydrate: 30 grams
Fiber: 6 grams
Total sugar: 18 grams
Sodium: 10 milligrams


Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook. Visit her website at www.eatwelltobewellrd.com.


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