What's not to like about berries?
Not only are they fantastic tasting, but berries are incredibly beneficial to our health in more ways than one. For starters, the antioxidants in berries may have positive effects on our brain. Antioxidants act as a powerful line of defense inside our bodies against free radicals that damage our cells and promote disease. Higher intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory micronutrients from sources like berries have been shown to possibly reduce cognitive decline in older adults.
Berries are also rich in micronutrients such as polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that helps prevent cancer and heart disease. Their mineral and vitamin content is small in comparison to some other foods, but their micronutrient profile is so rich that despite their size, their effect on our health is particularly noteworthy. Their antioxidant power lies in the pigment anthocyanin, which is associated with inhibiting tumors as well as stopping the spread of cancer cells.
In addition, berries are potentially beneficial for heart health. A study published in 2010 showed that when berries were consumed, healthy individuals as well as those with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smokers had:
- Lower risk of cardiovascular disease,
- Greater glucose metabolism,
- Improved cholesterol levels, and
- Greater antioxidant capacity.
However, how you consume berries determines whether or not you receive such health benefits. Berry juices and extracts do not have the same nutritional profile as whole berries. Juicing removes fiber, which contains the high micronutrient profile, especially the cancer fighting pigment anthocyanin. Berry extract also misses out on the rest of nutritional spectrum of the whole fruit. In addition, cooking berries damages antioxidant compounds and pigments. It is therefore important that you eat your berries whole and uncooked in order to receive all their health benefits.
To help make berries a bigger part of your diet, here are 5 tips for you to try:
1. EAT A BOWL OF COLORS:
Every day, treat yourself to a bowl filled with berries that cover the rainbow spectrum such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. You could stop there or continue up the rainbow and add fresh seasonal fruit of your choice. You can take this bowl of berries with you to work as a snack or enjoy it for breakfast.
2. DRINK A SMOOTHIE:
If you're in a hurry, you can blend your berries (to retain the fiber) to make an on-the-go smoothie. Throw in some leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and chard, to make a nutritional powerhouse drink. If you want a smooth, thicker smoothie, add a couple of bananas. Whatever you do with your smoothing, try to keep it simple and very ‘berry.’
3. PUT BERRIES ON TOP:
Berries can serve as an excellent addition to other foods. You can add them on top of oatmeal, granola, yogurt, crepes, or pancakes. Or, if you want to get really creative, try blending berries with dates to make a jelly paste, which you can then spread on slices of bread or eat with other fruits like sliced bananas.
4. MAKE A BERRY DESSERT:
Use a food processor and blend dried blueberries and mulberries (or other dried fruits) with dates. Form the paste into squares and place them in the refrigerator to harden for a sticky, sweet snack. You can also try dipping fresh strawberries or blueberries into the paste and enjoy an explosion of flavor and texture with each bite.
5) HAVE A SALAD:
Make a salad with mixed greens, fresh pineapple chunks, pears, and whatever fruit you have, with the berries. For a quick recipe, try mixing blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries with mixed leafy greens and fresh herbs. Dressing for a salad like this should be oil and vinegar free. Try blending lemon juice and strawberries together for a tasty dressing.
Bonus suggestion: If you have some spare time on your hands, plant a berry bush in your garden. By having your own berry bush, you’ll have free and instant access to one of the best brain and heart foods around.
Katja Breceljnik is a Clinical Nutritionist who runs the blog More Than An Apple. She graduated from the California College of Natural Medicine and has received a certificate in NeuroEndocrine Regulation & Anti-Aging. She is a passionate advocate for healthy living in a dirty city. She has helped many people with both reversing their symptoms and gaining understanding of the connection between their symptoms and the cause.
Main photo credit: iravgustin/Shutterstock.com