Berries are sometimes called “nature’s candy.” No wonder! Their natural sweetness is a healthy substitute for dessert and those colorful, little gems are surprisingly good for your health. Berries come in a variety of shades from pale red to a deep, saturated shade of purple. Although they all offer nutritional and health benefits, each is slightly different in the ratio of minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients it offers. Why should you eat berries? The evidence is growing that these antioxidant-rich berries belong on your plate. Read on and discover five scientifically backed reasons to munch on berries.
Why Eat Berries? Berries Are Among the Most Nutrient-Dense Foods
When you bite into a serving of berries, you gain a mouthful of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Berries are a particularly good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin you need for healthy skin and joints, as well as a balanced immune system. Strawberries are a particularly rich source of vitamin C with a one cup supplying almost 3 times the recommended daily intake of this vitamin. Most berries supply at least half of a day’s RDI for vitamin C. Plus, you typically don’t cook berries. That’s important since exposure to heat destroys a considerable quantity of a food’s vitamin C. Even though many vegetables are a good source of vitamin C, significant losses can take place when they’re heated. So, fruit, including berries, is a more reliable source of vitamin C than cooked vegetables.
Why Eat Berries? Berries Are Low in Natural Sugar
Fruit contains a mixture of fructose and sucrose – and some fruits, like bananas and grapes, are relatively high in sugar, whereas berries are naturally low. If you have type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome, berries are a better choice because of their low sugar content. For example, a cup of strawberries has only seven grams of sugar and the sugar is balanced by fiber. Despite their sweet taste, raspberries have only 5 grams of sugar per cup. Blueberries are a bit higher at 15 grams per cup but when you consider their other health benefits, blueberries, in moderation, are still among the healthiest foods you can eat.
Why Eat Berries? Berries May Improve Your Metabolic Health
The incidence of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes is rising and some of this rise can be blamed on poor diet quality and lack of physical activity. Want to right the ship? The first step is to eliminate processed foods from your diet and stick to whole foods in their natural state. Then, why not add some berries to your next bowl of steel-cut oats or sugar-free smoothie? In one study, people with metabolic syndrome who sipped a blueberry smoothie twice a day experienced greater improvements in insulin sensitivity relative to those who drank a blueberry-free smoothie.
How can you explain the improvement in insulin sensitivity? As mentioned, berries are a low-sugar fruit and they’re a good source of blood sugar taming fiber as well. Fiber helps reduce the glycemic response to a meal or snack. What’s more, berries are rich in compounds called polyphenols. Studies show that polyphenols slow carbohydrate absorption and reduce the blood sugar response to a meal as well. So, the combination of fiber and polyphenols is a potentially potent one for blood sugar control.
Why Eat Berries? They’re Good for Your Blood Vessels
According to studies, berries improve “endothelial function,” how blood vessels behave. What you might not realize is that the inner walls of blood vessels are actually an organ, the largest one in the human body. When the inner walls of blood vessels behave properly, the vessels open widely to let blood flow through, thereby lowering blood pressure. Plus, under optimal conditions, endothelial cells along the inner wall produce chemicals that help prevent the formation of a blood clot. Here’s the good news. Studies show that berries may improve endothelial function. That, in turn, may lower your risk of a blood clot, stroke, or heart attack. No doubt about it, berries can be part of a heart-healthy diet.
Why Eat Berries? Berries Are Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are most abundant in plant-based foods and berries are no exception. In fact, blueberries rank highest in terms of the antioxidant activity with wild blueberries being a more abundant source of antioxidants than cultivated blueberries. However, all berries contain antioxidants, including polyphenols, as already discussed. Antioxidants help prevent damage to cellular components by quenching free radicals. Free radicals are unstable and can cause a cascade of damage to a cell unless they are stabilized by electrons. Antioxidants in berries come to the rescue by donating their own electrons to free radicals, thereby restoring stability to a volatile situation. Those beautiful reds and purple represent the phytochemicals within the berry that have antioxidant activity.
Put Berries to Work for You
Berries are as versatile as they are healthy. Toss a handful into yogurt or oatmeal in the morning. They’re a natural for adding sweetness to smoothies. Make blueberry ice cubes and add them to iced tea for an extra burst of flavor and antioxidants. Berries taste delicious in a fresh, summer salad and the hint of sweetness means you need less salad dressing. Pop them in the freezer and enjoy natural “Popsicle” bites.
When choosing berries, look for the shiniest ones. A shiny berry is fresher than berries that have a dull appearance. Then, use them as quickly as possible to minimize the loss of vitamin C. Vitamin C breaks down when exposed to light. Don’t be afraid to buy frozen berries either. Once they’re frozen the vitamins and minerals are locked in for you to enjoy.
The Bottom Line
Add color to your diet with berries. They’re low in sugar, high in fiber, and rich in micronutrients and have some compelling health benefits. In general, the darker the berry, the higher the antioxidant content, so choose deep, dark colors, like the rich, purple hue of blueberries. Even better, eat a variety of berries to diversify the phytonutrients you get. Enjoy the health benefits that berries offer.
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Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Jun;61(6). doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201600271. Epub 2016 Oct 10.
Nutraingredients website. “Berries Cut Type 2 Diabetes and CVD Risk, Claims New Research”
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