“A good source of natural sugars, and packed with vitamins, phytochemicals, nutrients and antioxidants that are capable of slowing the aging process, fighting disease and improving general well-being, berries have immense potential as healing fruits.”
Their bright colors appeal to the eye, even before their juicy goodness delights the palate. Berries of all varieties, especially strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and blueberries, have been hailed for their significant disease fighting capabilities and exquisite flavors.
These fruits have a special place in literature and mythology; in the medieval ages, when people had faith in magic, it was believed that red berries took their predominant coloring from the blood of mythical creatures! Though not a very appetizing thought, berries have since then, always been associated with mysticism. The ancient Celtics believed that berries from the Rowan tree would make mankind immortal. Perhaps the considerable health value of individual berries was a reason for the origin of this myth.
For instance, preliminary results from a study on strawberries, conducted by Dr. Gene Spiller of the Sphera Foundation in the U.S., demonstrates that 30-60 minutes after eating them, the antioxidant levels in the body peaked remarkably. The study concluded that the antioxidants in strawberries are efficiently absorbed. Once antioxidants are absorbed, they are able to effectively battle free radicals which are the rogue compounds that wreak havoc on the body, causing it to age rapidly. Though of course, strawberries cannot yet be hailed as the elixir of youth, they certainly do seem to have properties that can effectively stem the aging process.
“Berries help protect cell structures in the body and prevent oxygen damage in all of the body’s organ systems. Strawberries and cranberries are highly rated as skin cleansing food as their moisture content is 87%,” says Deepshikha Agarwal, dietician and sports nutritionist. “If you have a craving for sweets, then you can replace the calorie-rich sweets with these low calorie hydrating fruits having natural sugars. Berries are cholesterol and sodium free. They are also very low in calories and rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, therefore ideal for people who are looking out for weight loss,” she adds.
Fighting Disease with Phytonutrients
Berries are powerhouses of phytonutrients—these are naturally occurring compounds found in plants, which are designed to protect plants against the harmful effects of the sun and other elements. The benefits that phytonutrients provide to the human system are many. They work synergistically with vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients to support one’s immune system. Foods that are rich in phytonutrients, therefore, can create a stronger and healthier body, one that is able to effectively ward off disease. Since phytonutrients are concentrated in the peels or skins of fruits and vegetables, berries—with their edible skins—are an ideal source and one of nature’s biggest gifts. The dark pigmentation of berries has been attributed to the presence of these phytonutrients.
According to Shubi Husain, Consultant Nutritionist and Co-Owner, Indiadiets.com, “The health benefits of berries have been shown to aid the body in fighting cardiovascular diseases, cataracts and may even be beneficial to those with bladder infections and certain kinds of cancers. Dark berries like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and goji berries contain powerful antioxidants. Blueberries, bilberries and raspberries contain lutein, which is important for healthy vision. Raspberries are rich in anthocyanins and cancerfighting phytochemicals such as ellagic, coumaric and ferulic acid. Pomegranate fruit extract (yes, it is considered a berry) has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been found to be particularly beneficial in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, and improving symptoms of coronary heart disease and periodontitis (gum disease). Raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, elderberry, blueberry and bilberry extracts have all been found to significantly inhibit H. pylori bacteria.”
“Berries, with all their healing properties and exquisite taste, could very well be the secret ingredient to lasting good health! “
Serving these Healthy Treats Berries with their natural sweetness, wholesome flavor and rich texture make excellent snacking options. They can be creatively combined with different foods to make interesting meals. Served whole or lightly salted, you can also mix your favorite berries with just a touch of whipped cream and nuts. Another way to serve them is to sprinkle a granola bar or your choice of crunchy cereal (choose healthy options such as muesli and unsweetened cornflakes) combined with a bowl of assorted berries. Yogurt can make a good base as well. In order to fully enjoy the health benefits, choose fresh berries as far as possible, avoid baked berry dishes such as cobblers, pies and other desserts for the sugar content in these could be devastating to the waistline!
When effectively combined with other healthy foods such as whole grain muffins and bread, berries make an excellent mini-meal that is appropriate for any time of day. You can also juice them or make your own home-made berry sauce. Berries, with all their healing properties and exquisite taste, could very well be the secret ingredient to lasting good health!
Purchase and Storage Tips
Choose berries that have rich, dark colors. The pigmentation in most berries is the result of the presence of phytonutrients, which aid in healing and restore immune function.
Ensure that the berries are smooth and firm before you purchase them. Check for signs of blemishes, wrinkled skin or mold. If the berries you’ve purchased have been frozen, the skin may appear wrinkled, but rest assured that this won’t alter the nutritional properties.
It’s best to store berries in a refrigerator. Purchase a netted cloth bag for storage or ensure that the container allows air to circulate. Avoid placing the fruit in air-tight containers since mold may form due to the excess moisture. Store frozen berries in sealable plastic bags.
Rinse berries only before use. Avoid soaking in water as berries are very absorbent and this would diminish their flavor.
Your Guide to Berry Good Health
Cranberries and blueberries can help treat painful bladder infections.
For asthma and allergy sufferers, most doctors recommend cranberries. These are high in quercitin, a substance that will provide relief for asthma attacks as well as eczema.
Rutin, a flavonoid found in berries, also has known protective effects against ulcers.
Extracts from blueberries, red raspberries and strawberries have documented anti-cancer properties.
Violet and blackberries are rich in anti-oxidants that fight signs of aging.
Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries all have particularly high ORAC scores (ORAC is a scientific measurement of antioxidant content in a particular food). These four berries are part of the top 20 food sources of antioxidants. The blueberry has the highest ORAC score of all the berries.
Goji Berries are packed with amino acids and this has been found to be 15 times more nutritional than spinach.
In a study by Tufts University, blueberries were shown to help reverse defects in memory, cognition and motor function associated with aging.