It’s no secret that berries are healthy, but do you know why? Well these summer favourites are actually a superfruit. What makes berries so special is their high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress, which leads to cell damage. Thus a diet high in antioxidants has a role in disease prevention and premature ageing.
So are they in your fridge? Here are seven great reasons why they should be.
- Weight control
With obesity numbers rising we need to seriously look at what we eat. Research has shown that people who consume more antioxidants weigh less, even when they don’t eat fewer calories. So berries could be an integral part of a healthy diet. Secondly these fruits are high in fibre (pectin), which promotes a feeling of fullness. Seconds anyone? No thanks. Use berries to keep those pounds off and get in 1 of your 5 a day.
Pick - Strawberries (A cup = 50 calories, 7 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fibre)
- Reduce cognitive decline
As we get older and live longer we are seeing increasing numbers of people with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Through ageing, the neural connections and pathways become weaker and we start to notice problems with our memory. Encouraging news is that the neuronal communication can be enhanced via phytonutrients. Blueberries in particular owe their jewel tone colour to a phytonutirent called anthocyanin. A study of 16,010 women over 70 showed a postponement in cognitive decline by two and a half years in those with the highest berry intake. One serving of blueberries a week may be enough to slow the progression of age related degenerative disease by improving memory, learning and motor skills.
- Prevent and manage diabetes
Do you have a sweet tooth? Or are you diabetic? Well, these sensational fruits are not only sweet but are also low on the glycemic index scale. Fresh blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries all have scores below 40, so they gradually raise blood sugar rather than spiking. Not diabetic? Well, let’s keep it that way. In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of 200,000 participants studied over a 24 year period, 12,600 developed diabetes. Yet those who reported the highest intake of blueberries reduced their risk of developing the disease by a whopping 23%!
Pick– Strawberries, raspberries
- Prevent high blood pressure
High blood pressure can lead to kidney failure, peripheral vascular disease, strokes, visual disturbances and heart attacks. A study on acnthacinons over a 14 year period showed that participants who ate at least one serving of blueberries a day showed a 10% decreased risk for high blood pressure compared with those who ate no blueberries. Additional to their antioxidant affects, flavoins can also help dilate (relax) blood vessels, by increasing the activity of endothelial nitric oxide synthase. These chemical compounds have a dilating effect on blood vessels thus reducing your blood pressure.
Reduce Heart disease
Do you have a family history of heart disease? Well, a berry-rich diet may be particularly helpful in not only lowering blood pressure but in several other ways to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease by up to 45%. Flavinoids has been seen to reduce platelet aggregation, increase good cholesterol and reduce inflammation. In a study of 27,000 subjects looking at diet and heart attack incidence, researchers associated a modification in the 9p21 gene related to heart disease when loading up on fruit and vegetables. Another study showed women were 34% less likely to have a heart attack by eating berries than those who didn’t .
Pick– Blackberries and Blueberries
Antioxidants in berries might be allies in the fight against cancer. In particular, a phytonutrient called ellagic acid gets the credit. In testtube and animal studies, these compounds have been demonstrated to stop the growth of breast, colon and esophageal cancer cells. Various studies have shown that people who consume foods high in ellagic acid are three times less likely to develop cancer when compared with those who consume very little or no ellagic acid. The American Institute for Cancer highlights that berries also contain several other anti-cancer nutrients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Folate and Flavonoids.
The natural pigment of ruby red strawberries is called carotenoids. Several studies have shown that carotenoids can protect against boss loss. Eighty percent of people in the U.S. with osteoporosis are women, putting them at risk of osteoporosis and broken bones. Strawberries are rich in Vitamin c and E. So let’s think smart about preventing bone loss.
So can you know see why berries are called super foods?
So how much should we eat? We all know we should be eating 5 a day of fruit and vegetables so why not make one of them berries! Studies have shown benefits with three or more servings a week.
Does it matter fresh or frozen? Unfortunately today’s lifestyle does not allow everybody to pick his or her own fresh berries. However, nutrients like Vitamin C are maintained even when frozen.
How can I get enough berries into my diet?
Don’t be afraid to be creative. Enjoy these suggestions:
- Start the day with berries in your yogurt, oats or smoothie.
- Snack on them just as they are washed and fresh with some almonds
- Lunch - make a salad dressing
- Grilled fish on a bed of strawberry and asparagus
- Dessert – Blackberry popsicles
So DO NOT leave the aisle without these itty bitty fruits in your shopping trolley. Versatile and sweet, and a powerful weapon in prevention that your kids will love to gobble up!
Dr Amy Carmichael is a medical doctor who sees the value of good nutrition.Find her at Facebook/DrAmyCarmichael.