Berry Berry Delicious
Each time I pick up a magazine about health or nutrition, it is not unusual to see an article on berries and their health benefits. How could such a little thing be so packed full of health and nutrition? Well, let us start with a definition. The botanical definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary. There are so many types of berries, we cannot even attempt to list them all here. If you are interested, just google "berries, list” and choose from several sites that provide extensive lists and descriptions of all kinds of berries.
Though berries are small and delicate, they pack a powerful array of compounds that protect our health, most notably vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Even the pigments that give berries their beautiful blue and red hues have health benefits. Berries contain phytochemicals and flavonoids that may help to prevent some forms of cancer. Research shows that eating a diet rich in blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, and strawberries may help to reduce our risk of several types of cancers. In addition, cranberries and blueberries contain a substance that may prevent bladder infections. Blueberries and raspberries also contain lutein, which is important for healthy vision. The vitamin C found in berries is necessary for immune system function and for strong connective tissue.
Purple fruits and vegetables, such as purple grapes, blueberries, and purple onions, contain important nutrients that have shown many health benefits including anti-aging. These purple antioxidants, called anthocyanins, have been shown to protect the heart and vision, promote mental focus, and prevent oxidative stress. Resveratrol is another fat-soluble compound found in some purple foods, such as grapes, red wine, purple grape juice and some berries which has numerous health benefits. Research has indicated that purple foods may one day provide a cure for cancer.
As if these benefits are not enough, berries are considered low calorie foods. Most berries contain between 45-100 calories. For example, one cup of strawberries contains over 100 mg of vitamin C, almost as much as a cup of orange juice but only 43 calories compared to 110 for the juice. One cup of blueberries contains about 81 calories. The same amount of cranberries comes in at 47 calories, and one cup of raspberries is about 60 calories.
All grocery stores carry an ample variety of fresh, canned, and frozen berries. Look for ripe, colorful, and firm berries with no sign of mold or mushy spots. Berries can also be found in the frozen section of the grocery store. Once they thaw, they will not be as firm as freshly picked berries, but they are still delicious and good for you.
Be careful with canned berries. Most are the type used in pies with sugary syrup or high fructose corn syrup added. So, choose canned berries without added sugar if you can find them. They are scarce. If it does have sugar added, look for cane sugar or raw/organic cane sugar. It will probably say "light syrup", but check the ingredient list. There should only be the fruit, water, and cane sugar (raw/organic preferred). Do not choose "sugar-free" berries, as that usually means that sugar substitute has been added which is chemical. Stevia is an herbal, noncaloric sweetener which is acceptable if sugar is a major issue such as in diabetes.
For fresh berries, wash them just before you use them. They can be stored in a container or pierced plastic bag that allows air to circulate and refrigerated for 3-5 days. Buy fresh berries in season or when they are on sale and freeze them. Most retain their quality if used within six months and sometimes longer when sealed tightly. Freeze them in individual portion-sized containers or bags for easy use.
Berries are wonderful alternatives to high calorie, high fat or sugary desserts, and make wonderful companions to whole grains, salad greens, fish and poultry. They are easy to incorporate into any meal, just use your imagination. Toss some berries into your cereal, yogurt, salad, ice cream, smoothie, as a side dish to any entrée or put them together with your favorite nuts as a quick snack.
As a last note, buy berries grown locally in your area in season for the least amount of stress on the environment and your pocketbook.
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