Luscious berries in brilliant shades of red, purple, and blue. Who can resist their allure? But, berries aren’t just tantalizing to the taste buds, they have some surprising health benefits. Whether you enjoy them freshly picked from a garden or from your local farmer’s market, you’ll find lots of reasons to love berries. Here’s why you should enjoy more of their sweetness. Whether it’s for lunch, breakfast, or dinner – berries are on the menu.
High Nutrient Density
Berries are one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. Nutrient density is determined by the ratio of nutrients to calories in a food. These luscious orbs in shades or red, purple, and blue are low in calories but rich in nutrients, including vitamin C, B-vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. The fact that they’re so packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, gives them a high nutrient density relative to the calories they contain.
Another advantage is most people generally eat berries raw, so the berries aren’t exposed to heat, which could destroy some of their vitamin C and folate. In fact, strawberries are one of the best sources of vitamin C. Surprisingly, a cup of strawberries has more vitamin C than an orange.
The other group of foods that are tops in nutrient density is leafy greens and greens and berries are a nutritious combo. Why not enjoy the benefits of both by building a spinach salad topped with your favorite berries?
Possible Anti-Cancer Benefits
It’s common knowledge that berries are rich in cell-protective antioxidants. These antioxidants help protect cells against oxidative stress that could damage DNA, the genetic material that acts as a cell’s blueprint. When DNA is damaged, a cell produces abnormal proteins and some of these proteins could allow uncontrolled cell growth and lead to cancer. Could berries be protective?
In a recent study, researchers at the University of Eastern Finland explored natural pigments in dark berries like blueberries and blackberries. These pigments, called anthocyanins, impact enzymes called sirtuins that influence key genes that control cell growth. By their impact on sirtuins, anthocyanins in berries may stymy the growth of cancerous cells.
In addition, anthocyanins have an anti-inflammatory effect. We know inflammation is a driving force behind a number of chronic health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune diseases, and some forms of cancer. So, enjoying an unprocessed diet that includes berries may offer some protection against chronic health issues like these. Another reason to enjoy richly colored berries in your next smoothie or bowl of cereal!
Better Blood Sugar Control
Research suggests that berries may help with blood sugar control. After eating a high-carb meal, blood glucose and insulin both rise. For health reasons, you want glucose and insulin to fall quickly after a meal is over. People who have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes often have an abnormally large rise in blood sugar and insulin and sugar and insulin stays in the bloodstream longer. Over time, this damages the walls of blood vessels and organs.
The good news? Studies show that berries slow the rise in blood sugar with a meal and reduce the release of insulin. In one study, women who ate pureed berries with a meal of bread experienced 25% lower insulin levels than those who ate bread without berries. Plus, berries are a healthy alternative to a sweet dessert, as they cause less of a glucose and insulin response. Plus, they’re lower in carbs than other fruits. So, the next time you’re craving something sweet, reach for berries rather than a cookie or bowl of ice cream. Natural sweetness at its best!
When you’re trying to control your weight, you want each calorie to be as nutrient-rich as possible. We know that berries are one of the most nutrient-dense foods, but they’re also an excellent source of soluble fiber. Fiber delays the movement of food through the digestive tract and this helps reduce hunger, so you don’t get cravings for the wrong stuff.
Which berries are highest in fiber? Raspberries take the prize with just over 8 grams of fiber per serving. Berries are also naturally sweet, so they’re a good substitute for a higher calorie dessert. When you’re craving ice cream, pop berries in the freezer and let them freeze for a few hours. When they emerge, you’ll have frozen “popsicle” bites.
As discussed, berries are rich in soluble fiber, the type linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Inflammation is a driver of cardiovascular disease as it damages the inner walls of arteries. Studies show that natural pigments in berries, including anthocyanins, have an anti-inflammatory effect. Cells that line the inner walls of arteries called endothelial cells are important for healthy blood vessel function as they control blood pressure and blood clotting. One study of people with metabolic syndrome showed that those who consumed a blueberry smoothie every day for six weeks experienced improvements in “endothelial function,” suggesting that blueberries might lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by helping blood vessels behave better.
The Bottom Line
Now, you have more reasons to enjoy berries! Berries are most nutritious if you buy them in season and local as they have less opportunity to lose important vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C. However, you can enjoy their goodness year-round when you buy frozen berries. Berries are frozen at their peak of freshness and this locks in their vitamins and prevents further nutrient loss.
It’s a good idea to choose organic berries, when possible, particularly if you buy strawberries. Strawberries always top the list of berries most heavily sprayed and they were number one on the “dirty dozen” list for 2018. But, don’t let fear of pesticides stop you from enjoying the vast nutritional benefits of berries. Look for frozen, organic berries at your local grocer. Then, enjoy their natural sweetness!
Science Daily. “New health benefits discovered in berry pigment”
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Nutrients. 2015 May 27;7(6):4107-23.
Produce Retailer. “2018 “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists released”