Why are berries so beneficial? It appears that deeply colored fruits, like berries, contain a myriad of antioxidant compounds. These compounds help maintain healthy blood vessels, reduce inflammation, improve metabolism, aid in digestive health, slow down brain aging, improve immunity and may even help prevent cancer.
Small Fruits Can Provide Enormous Health Benefits
In June of 2011, more than 20 scientists from around the world shared their research and discussed the impact berries have on health and wellness during the Berry Health Benefits Symposium. I was honored to be invited to attend this symposium as a guest and keynote dinner speaker.
Below are just a few of the findings reported at the symposium. But first, let’s take a look at some berry facts:
These large berries are high in vitamins A and C and soluble fiber. They’re rich in anthocyanins and ellagic acid, two different types of antioxidants.
Highbush or cultivated, blueberries are the best known type, available fresh and frozen. Wild blueberries are just 1/3 the size of their cultivated cousins and are available as frozen, juice, dried and canned. Both types are rich in flavonoids and phenolic compounds which account for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Rich in flavonoids and other phenolic acids, cranberries provide both antioxidant and bacteria blocking anti-adhesion properties (good for urinary tract health).
These small berries are an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber and a good source of calcium, iron, potassium and vitamins A and B. They’re a rich source of ellagic acid and anthocyanins.
Purple grapes, especially the Concord grape, are rich in polyphenols, which give them their vibrant color, many of which are the same as those found in red wine. Research suggests eating purple grapes – or drinking its juice – may benefit the heart by helping to maintain healthy, clear and flexible arteries to promote healthy blood flow.
Like other berries, raspberries are rich in vitamin C and soluble fiber. They contain ellagitannins, a type of polyphenol with antioxidant properties.
One serving of strawberries contains more vitamin C than an orange. Strawberries are rich in folate. They’re also good sources of potassium, fiber and flavonoids.
Here are some of the research findings presented at the conference. Please keep in mind that since these are unpublished studies, the findings should be considered preliminary and need to be replicated.
Berry polyphenols and breast cancer
Dr. Harini Aiyer, with the Vincent T. Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center of Georgetown University School of Medicine, discussed the role of blueberry and black raspberry polyphenols in the prevention of breast cancer, as well as preventing its recurrence in people who are breast cancer survivors. She found that rats fed the equivalent of one cup of berries per day had estrogen-induced tumors reduced by up to 75 percent.
Berries and metabolic syndrome
Arpita Basu, PhD, RD, of the Nutritional Sciences Department of Oklahoma State University, found that people who regularly eat blueberries, strawberries or low-calorie cranberry juice improve their markers of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a reduced ability to maintain a normal blood glucose level, increased accumulation of fat around the waist, high levels of triglycerides, low level of HDL cholesterol (the good kind) plus higher than normal blood pressure. People who have metabolic syndrome have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Cranberries and periodontal disease
Gum disease is quite common and may lead to tooth loss. Dr. Daniel Grenier from Université Laval in Quebec has done preliminary research that suggests that the proanthocyanidins in cranberry juice concentrate can slow down gingivitis and the subsequent bone loss in advanced periodontal disease.
Blueberries and grapes and memory
Ongoing research by the late James Joseph, PhD and Barbara Shukitt-Hale, PhD suggests eating blueberries can help delay the decline in the brain’s aging and improve memory. The research of Robert Krikorian, PhD, suggests blueberries and Concord grapes may prevent or even reverse age-related memory changes.
Blueberries and multiple sclerosis
Preliminary research in mice by Susan McGuire, PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago/U.S. Veterans Administration suggests that supplementing the diet of MS patients with whole, freeze-dried blueberries may help to reduce their symptoms.
Exciting stuff it is! Ready to dig in? Or even if you are already a berry eater and ready to enjoy more – you may want to hear some ideas of how to incorporate them into your diet.
1. Toss a handful of dried or a half cup of fresh berries to your breakfast cereal.
2. Add a half cup of frozen blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or blackberries to a bowl of steaming hot oatmeal. Watch as they quickly defrost and cool down the cereal at the same time.
3. Make a breakfast berry parfait by layering fresh or defrosted frozen berries in a bowl or parfait glass with Greek yogurt. Add some crunch with chopped walnuts or even some ground flaxseed. Drizzle honey, if desired.
4. Whirl some frozen or fresh berries in a blender along some yogurt or milk and a few ice cubes for a smoothie.
5. Mix dried berries along with some raw nuts for an on-the-go snack mix.
6. Freeze grapes and pop them in your mouth for a cool, refreshing snack.
7. Or simply grab a handful and eat them just as they are!
Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RD is a Registered Dietitian and award-winning speaker, columnist, business consultant and nutrition counselor. She is a frequent guest on television, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, Fox News and CNN. She writes for Chicago Parent and Environmental Nutrition. For more information, please visit www.christinepalumbo.com.
The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.