The Health Magic of Berries

| published November 1, 2014 |

By Maggie Nichols
Thursday Review contributor

Doctors and diet specialists stress that—contrary to the junk you see on TV and the unsubstantiated health claims one finds on the internet—there are no “magic pills” nor any special foods which can guarantee good health or immediate weight loss. However, there are the obvious things that we should all consider: cutting back on fatty foods; reducing (or eliminating) meat, especially red meat; eating more fresh vegetables and fruit.

But what if there were a simple, user-friendly food that came as close to being the magic food as possible? Well, there is: berries.

We’ve written about berries before in these pages (see “The Tiny, Incredible, Edible Blueberry; Thursday Review; September 14, 2013.”), but here are some facts I bet you did not know:

Berries—and for the purposes of this article we are referring to a wide range which includes blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, cranberries, and strawberries—are a great way to manage your weight. Berries can be eaten as a snack, almost any time of the day. And because they contain water, berries can replicate the sense of “fullness” that junk foods like potato chips and cookies never will. Further, because berries are sweet, naturally sweet, the body is not tricked into craving other sweets or junk.

Fresh berries can be used very easily, right from the package and rinsed in cold water, as a flavor enhancer for salads—fruit salads or green salads, or with any combination of veggie salads.

Berries are natural sources of antioxidants, and as we have learned from numerous other articles, antioxidants are a good thing. For one, they help reduce the aging process by assisting with tissue repair and slowing the normal processes of bodily deterioration. And because berries are all high in vitamins, most especially Vitamin C, a diet rich in fresh berries may greatly reduce your chances of common ailments like colds and flus. A single serving of blueberries or raspberries, for example, contains almost 25% of the recommended intake of Vitamin C for an adult. Trivia: the berry with the highest antioxidant benefit: Acai berries, a native of Brazil, but available in most North American grocery stores.

Berries are a great source of fiber, which also means that they are a naturally good way to reduce your risk of internal cancers. There is some evidence—though the studies are not yet conclusive—that people with a higher-than-average intake of berries in their diet are at lower risk for skin cancer. And berries—most especially blueberries, blackberries and cranberries—have the right combination of nutrients and antioxidant qualities to help speed recovery from things like urinary tract infections.

Berries are also a tasty way to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke, and several major studies indicate that women who consume higher quantities of fresh berries lower their risk of stroke and heart attack at an even more significant rate than men. Berries, which contain something called anthocyanins, may act to aggressively reduce arterial plaque, and some doctors believe that those anthocyanins could even reverse some forms of plaque build-up (though this has not yet been proven in major university studies). Cranberries, for example, actually increase HDL (“good” cholesterol), and can measurably lower bad cholesterol levels.

Finally, berries—most especially blueberries, cranberries and blackberries—may be useful in delaying or staving off memory loss. Dozens of major studies of memory, dementia and Alzheimer’s seem to indicate that people whose diet has been rich in berries tend to retain better memory capacity well into old age.

A few caveats: berries can, especially when out of season, be a bit pricey. The key is to know the seasonal changes and adjust your intake accordingly. Strawberries, which come largely from Florida and California, are therefore more reasonably priced your-round (though the recent drought in California has caused a serious spike in produce prices across the board). Depending on where you live, blueberries tend to be expensive by weight, but remember that only a small handful can still pack a load of Vitamin C, fiber and other benefits. Add them to whole grain cereal or use them sparingly as a garnish or salad topping.

(We’ll have more about berries in future articles in Thursday Review)

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Tiny, Incredible, Edible Blueberry; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; September 14, 2013.

The Health Benefits of Beans; Maggie Nichols; Thursday Review; June 10, 2014.