By Liz Pearson
I’m hearing lots of good things about berries. What’s all the fuss about?
If there is such thing as a superfood, emerging research suggests berries are worthy of this title. When the scientists who study berries start making them a regular part of their own diet, you know they’ve got to be great! Here’s what you need to know.
Compared to most fruits and vegetables, berries have remarkable antioxidant potential. Most of their antioxidant power comes from the potent plant compounds they contain called flavonoids and phenols, which also contribute to their vibrant colours. These compounds help prevent diseases like heart disease and cancer by battling nasty free radicals before they can damage your body cells.
Berries for your brain
Can berries actually turn back the clock? In recent studies from Tufts University, age-related declines in memory, balance and coordination were reversed in rats fed a blueberry-rich diet. Researchers also found that blueberries prevented rats from developing Alzheimer’s disease, even when they were genetically predisposed to it. Berries appear to enhance brain health by protecting nerve cells in the brain from damage.
Powerful cancer protection
Animal studies suggest many different types of berries protect against various forms of cancer, including cancers of the colon, breast, esophagus and prostate. The plant compounds in berries appear to prevent cancer cells from forming. They also stop the cells from multiplying and cause them to die.
More good news
Berries may protect your heart by keeping your arteries flexible and reducing damage to the inner lining of blood vessel walls. Numerous studies have also found that cranberries and more recently, blueberries can fight off urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall. Plant compounds in berries may also promote good vision by helping protect or repair damaged eye tissues.
Which berry is best?
While blueberries get top billing for their antioxidant status, lots of great research is emerging with most other berries, especially cranberries. The black raspberry, not widely available in Canada at this time, has even more antioxidant power than the blueberry and may one day be the berry to eat. Bottom line: enjoy a wide variety of berries.
Fresh or frozen?
That’s up to you. Frozen berries have the same nutrition and disease-fighting potential as fresh. Try to eat ½ to 1 cup of berries most days of the week, and enjoy a wide variety. Because strawberries and raspberries may be more likely to have pesticide residues, be sure to wash them thoroughly before eating, or consider buying organic.
Berry good habits
1. Top your morning cereal with them
2. Mix them into low fat yogurt
3. Throw them into muffins or pancakes
4. Toss them into salads (most berries are great paired with a raspberry or balsamic vinegar dressing)
5. Snack on them just as they are
6. Make a smoothie: blend ½ cup frozen berries with one cup of milk, strawberry soy milk or fruit juice
7. Add dried berries, such as cranberries, to trail mix (limit serving size of dried berries to about 1/4 cup since they are a concentrated source of sugar and calories)
8. Create an elegant treat by dipping into a small amount of melted dark chocolate
9. Serve them with a small scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt (frozen berries heated in the microwave and spooned over yogurt are especially yummy)
10. Instead of pie, make an oatmeal berry crisp