By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
The ancient Romans believed that berries alleviated symptoms of melancholy, fainting, all inflammations, fevers, throat infections, kidney stones, halitosis, attacks of gout, and diseases of the blood, liver, and spleen.
Modern science has yet to confirm all such sweeping properties, but for sure among fruits and vegetables, the berry family has without a doubt received a big-time blessing from Nature…
Berries are richly endowed with:
- Flavor that make them a tasty favorite for young and old alike,
- Fiber, from the tiny seeds they contain, and
- Antioxidants and other constituents that give them health-boosting oomph as well.
Researchers continually reveal positive findings and recognize the value of berries as part of a healthy diet. Here are a few examples:
- A 2010 review article concluded that eating different berries (either fresh, as juice, or freeze-dried) generates a variety of cardiovascular improvements. Benefits, including reduced cholesterol oxidation and better glucose control, have been documented in healthy subjects as well as those with existing risk factors. Berries enhance heart health by decreasing damaging oxidative activity, inhibiting inflammatory substances, and promoting endothelial nitric oxide, a protective chemical produced in arterial walls that keep blood vessels relaxed and dilated;
- A 2012 study from Harvard, using a health database of more than 121,000 registered nurses, found that a high intake of berries over time appears to delay memory decline in older women by two and a half years. This was the first evidence that berries may slow progression of memory loss.
- A 2014 study from Italy found that a daily serving of strawberries over a one-month period significantly lowered signs of damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA from oxidative stress free radical activity. The researchers linked strawberry consumption, even in a short period of time, to reductions in specific oxidative damage associated with arterial plaque and diabetes, as well as cancer, asthma, and lung-scarring disorders. They also found a substantial increase of vitamin C in the blood, a decrease of activated platelets (clotting factors in the blood), and a solid reduction of triglycerides, all welcome results.
- A 2011 study found that anthocyanins, pigments that provide color to many fruits and vegetables, are beneficial for blood pressure. British researchers determined that individuals with the highest intake of these compounds (predominantly from blueberries and strawberries) had an 8 percent lower blood pressure than those with the lowest intake. The study was based on 14 years of follow up among 35,000 men and women with high blood pressure. The most significant improvements were seen among individuals under the age of 60. The reason suggested for this finding was that cumulative oxidative damage over many years might exceed the ability of the berry compounds to generate such beneficial effects in older people.
These few examples help explain my bullishness on berries.
There’s a caveat though: Conventionally-grown berries contain some of the very highest pesticide residue levels found in produce. So whatever your preference in berries…blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, or other varieties…try for organic varieties as much as possible.
Put berries on some coarse Irish oatmeal (good fiber) or in a morning smoothie and blend with raw nuts and greens to taste.
If you are interested in blending yourself a delicious, nutrient powerhouse drink, check out my Healthy Cooking Videos
Berries, and particularly blueberries, have received much attention in the popular health media because of their high antioxidant content. Other good produce sources of antioxidants include grapes, eggplants, oranges, avocados, olives, red onion, figs, sweet potatoes, and mangoes. Which are the most powerful antioxidant foods is not really possible to say. Antioxidants inhibit the effect of oxidizing molecules in the body that cause cellular destruction and in the past berries have been ranked high on the list of antioxidant foods. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has withdrawn its support of a method called ORAC that has been used previously to measure the antioxidant capacity of foods. According to the agency, the measuring system is considered inefficient because bioactive compounds in food are not exclusively antioxidants. Non-antioxidant mechanisms, such as from micronutrients, fiber, and other factors, may also be involved in preventing or minimizing chronic diseases such as cancer, arterial disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
But even without a reliable method to rank foods, we know that berries have plenty of nurturing and nutritional firepower. And that’s good enough.
If you want to eat healthy, but don’t feel too at home in the kitchen, be sure check out the other 9 videos in my Healthy Cooking Videos through which my son, Step, and I show you how easy and quick healthy cooking can be! We make our favorite meals, and tell you the health benefits associated with them. You can also download lots of great recipes to try, which I hope become your favorites too!
- Jennings A, Welch AA, et al. Higher anthocyanin intake is associated with lower arterial stiffness and central blood pressure in women. Am J Clin Nutr, 2012;96(4):781-788.
- Basu A, Rhone M, Lyons TJ. (2010), Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health. Nutrition Reviews, 68: 168–177. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00273.x
- Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler, MMB, Grodstein F. (2012), Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann Neurol., 72: 135–143. doi: 10.1002/ana.23594
- Cassidy A, O’Reilly EJ, Kay C, et al. Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults. Am J Clin Nutr. February 2011 vol. 93 no. 2 338-347.
- Alvarez-Suarez JM, Giampieri F, et al. One-month strawberry-rich anthocyanin supplementation ameliorates cardiovascular risk, oxidative stress markers and platelet activation in humans. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. March 2014. vol. 25 no. 3 289-294.
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