The period from late spring to mid-summer is the perfect time to enjoy some of Mother Nature’s most perfect foods…berries. There is a powerhouse of nutrition in these peewee fruits that it is hard to beat for everything from aiding weight loss to bone health and controlling blood sugar, and from heart health to easing arthritis pain and cancer prevention. This time of year fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all as close as the nearest grocery store, farmers market, or pick-it-yourself farm.
THE AMAZING HEALTH BENEFITS OF BERRIES
Promoting Heart Health Even people with a strong inherited risk for heart disease may find that a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables, including berries, can reduce their chances of having a heart attack. In a study of 72 middle-aged people published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating just under a cup of mixed berries (including strawberries and raspberries) daily for eight weeks was associated with increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lowered blood pressure, two positives when it comes to heart health. The potassium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and phytonutrient content found in blueberries also support heart health.
Lowering Blood Pressure The antioxidant properties found in berries may be particularly helpful for people with a family history of risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure. The chemical compounds in berries fight the systemic inflammation that may accompany high blood pressure, helping to make your body healthier overall.
Fighting Cancer Eating a diet that includes blueberries and raspberries, which are packed with flavonoids, may help to prevent some forms of cancer. Research published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis suggests that flavonoids and other compounds found in berries may help reduce colon cancer risk.
Maintaining Mental Fitness According to research published in the Annals of Neurology, one study found women who eat two servings of strawberries or one serving of blueberries a week experienced less mental decline over time than those who did not. Researchers reviewed data from 16,010 women over age 70. Those with the highest berry intake postponed cognitive decline by as much as two and a half years. Anthocyanidins, a type of flavonoid found almost exclusively in berries, may be the reason. Berries also may help fight the effects of age on the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease by cleaning up the damaging build-up of toxins over time.
Managing Diabetes Berries are a great source of fiber and an excellent choice as a serving of fruit for people with diabetes. Studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and those with type 2 diabetes may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One cup of blueberries contributes 3.6 grams of fiber.
Preventing Bone Loss According to the new research published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, polyphenols found in berries may help preserve bone density after menopause. Our bones are constantly going through a process of breaking down and building back up. After menopause, when estrogen levels plummet, bone breakdown starts to outpace bone formation, resulting in bone loss, a risk factor for osteoporosis. In the study, rats that had their ovaries removed simulating menopause, which were fed blueberries every day for three months showed a significant increase in bone density.
Aiding Weight Management Because of their fiber and liquid content, berries give you a sense of fullness, which can be important to managing your weight. Nutrition-rich berries can be incorporated into your diet in a variety of ways. They can be included in fresh fruit sauces and salad dressings, or as elements of the salad itself. They can be paired with nuts for a nutritious snack, added on top of cereals or yogurt or just eaten alone.
Preventing Parkinson’s Disease People who eat at least two servings of berries a week have a 25 percent less chance of developing Parkinson’s disease than their peers, according to research published in the journal Neurology. The same research showed that men with the highest intake of the flavonoids found in berries reduced their risk by 40 percent.
Easing Arthritis Pain Berries are also good for easing arthritis symptoms, too. They top the charts in antioxidant power, protecting the body against inflammation and free radicals that can damage cells and organs, by helping turn off the inflammation signals.
Promoting Urinary Tract Health Cranberries are most closely associated with urinary tract health, but blueberries may be helpful as well. Although it’s generally recommended to eat whole berries, drinking cranberry or blueberry juice might be helpful for avoiding UTIs.
The Take-Away When it comes to berries, you can’t go wrong. Where else can you find the great flavor and amazing health benefits packed into such tiny, yet colorful packages. Take advantage of the wide variety of fresh and delicious berries in season in our area right now, and color your summer meals healthy.