Berries: Small Package, Big Benefit
Berries are nutrition superstars! They are tiny nutritional powerhouses, packed full of good things. In fact, pound for pound, berries contain more nutritional benefits than any other food. Berries come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes and all share a great ability to positively affect health. The following are a few standouts.
Blueberries—Blueberries are the nutritional leaders of the pack. The USDA Human Nutrition Center has ranked blueberries number one among berries in antioxidant activity (antioxidants are compounds that protect the body from cell damage caused by free radicals). Neutralizing these free radicals protects the body from heart disease and much of this antioxidant strength comes from the anthocyanin pigments which give berries their color. The darker the berry, the more anthocyanin they contain. These anthocyanins also strengthen blood capillaries, protect the brain from damage caused by stroke, and improve circulation to the brain. Blueberries are low in calories and high in fiber, both of which are good for the heart. The high level of antioxidants in blueberries has been shown to protect against a number of types of cancer as well. Laboratory tests show that compounds in blueberries inhibit and block the mutations that cause some cancers, including colon and possibly ovarian cancer. Two compounds found in blueberries (and berries in general) assist in controlling blood sugar levels, which helps prevent insulin resistance and diabetes.
Blueberries contain lutein which offers protection for the eyes against age-related macular degeneration. They also contain vitamins A and C, and minerals like zinc, potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. A Recent Tufts University study showed potential for blueberries in reducing age-related memory impairment and motor function decline. These effects are due to the ability of the phytochemicals in blueberries to protect against oxidation, the principle cause of cellular damage. Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging recently published research showing that nutrients, like the phytochemicals in blueberries, may reverse age-related declines in brain function, specifically the cognitive and motor deficiencies associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Blueberries may also be good for bone density. According to new research documented in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, the polyphenols in blueberries appear to slow bone loss by slowing the rate of bone turnover.
Raspberries—Like blueberries, raspberries (and their hybrid cousins loganberries and boysenberries) are rich in cancer fighting phytochemicals such as ellagic acid, coumaric, and ferulic acid. They appear particularly effective against colon cancer, perhaps due to the antioxidant ellagitannin, which is found almost exclusively in raspberries. They are good sources of vitamins A, C, E, and folic acid, as well as calcium and fiber and are great for free radical reduction. Raspberries help control blood sugar and insulin levels, thus contributing to the prevention of diabetes and heart disease and their pectin reduces cholesterol levels. Raspberries slow or prevent the overgrowth of certain bacteria and fungi (such as yeast) due to their antibacterial properties. There is also some evidence they offer protection against macular degeneration.
Strawberries—They have the second highest level of antioxidants among the berries, second only to the blueberry. In particular, their unique phenol content provides beneficial heart effects. They are good sources of fiber, manganese, and have more vitamin C than any other berry. Antioxidants in strawberries prevent the oxidation of bad ( LDL) cholesterol and therefore help fight heart disease. Their antioxidants, such as the previously mentioned anthocynanins and ellagic acid, are also potent cancer fighters. Specifically, they have shown some ability to slow or prevent liver cancer. Strawberries contain anti-inflammatory properties, which may explain the protective effect against Rheumatoid Arthritis and they appear to protect against macular degeneration.
Cranberries—These berries are good for preventing urinary tract infections and possibly kidney stones due to their anti-bacterial qualities. Cranberries have also shown potential in preventing H-pylori bacteria from attaching to the lining of the stomach, thus reducing incidence of ulcers. They offer protection against heart disease and stroke (and aid in stroke recovery), possibly through the ability to lower bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol and reduce the risk of gum disease. Gum disease is a suspected factor in heart disease because it increases inflammation. Cranberries help restore vessel health in those with atherosclerosis, which may help prevent a heart attack. There is evidence of the cranberry’s anti-cancer effect as well, particularly against skin, prostate, stomach, lung, brain, and breast cancer. This may be due to their ability to prevent cancer cells from replicating.
Pomegranates—Pomegranates (yes, they are considered berries) are known to reduce inflammation, which may be helpful to arthritis sufferers, and to be high in antioxidant power. Pomegranates provide protection from heart disease by reducing cholesterol buildup, lowering blood pressure, and lessening the thickening of artery walls. They also improve oxygen flow in those with pre-existing heart disease and guard against gum disease. They have been shown to have anti-cancer effects on human breast, prostate, and skin cells, possibly due to their high antioxidant levels. In addition, pomegranates have the ability to reduce oxidative stress, which is important in preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes. Pomegranate juice has been used traditionally to calm diarrhea symptoms and may offer some benefit in the treatment of Erectile Dysfunction.
Berries of all kinds provide potent health benefits and come in a variety of great flavors. They are colorful, tasty, and bring life to most any recipe. Try some berries today and take a step toward improving life and health!
- Dr. Mercola, Joseph. “Health Benefits of Berries”. www.mercola.com. 2008.
- Cason, Katherine; Hunter, Janet G. www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/nutrition/dietary-guide/hgic4046.html. (rev. 08).
- Wright, Brierly, MS, RD. “Total Body Benefits of Berries” www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/the_total_body_benefits_of_berries. August/08.
- www.healthscout.com. “Berries & Wrinkles”. www.healthscout.com/news/1/626230/main.html.
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- Worlds Healthiest Foods. “Blueberries”. www.whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=8