Monday, August 01, 2016
Berries: Why we should be eating more of them.
A little girl toddles from behind a blueberry bush at a local orchard. Cheeks covered in berry juice she grins, points and says “booberry.” We should be all agog for berries like this little girl because they are one of the healschnthiest foods on the planet.
Berries have four times more antioxidant activity than most other fruits, and ten times more than most vegetables. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and chronic disease risk by scavenging potentially harmful free oxygen radicals. Berries are also packed with vitamin C, fiber, magnesium and potassium. One cup of raspberries is only 65 calories and provides 53% of the daily value for vitamin C, and 32% of the daily value for fiber.
Overall, dietary surveys reveal that berry-rich diets are associated with: healthy body weight, a reduction in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and improvements in mood and cognitive function. The health benefits of berries have been in the news for a long time so it is surprising that berry consumption remains so low.
On average, a person living in the United States consumes one white potato a day and a mere one tablespoon of berries per week. The bottom line is that berries are low in calories, and rich in nutrients that support overall health and wellbeing. We need to eat more of them.
Set a reasonable goal such as one half cup of berries each day. To achieve this goal, consider adding berries to your diet in new ways. Try them in yogurt, smoothies, and salads. Use a toothpick to dip berries in yogurt, and freeze on a lined cookie sheet to make a frosty snack kids will love. Or make this fresh blueberry sauce and serve it as a healthy alternative to pancake syrup or as a dipping sauce for chicken tenders and kebabs.
Fresh Blueberry Sauce (recipe inspired by Nigella Lawson)
Bring to a boil, and then simmer two to three minutes:
¼-½ cup maple syrup (to taste)
1½ cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Optional additions: vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, orange zest
Does cooking destroy the nutritional value of berries? No. Cooking actually rearranges the shape of the antioxidant molecules in berries enabling you to absorb more of them. Berries in any form (fresh, frozen, dried, and cooked) are good for you, but fresh berries are the highest in vitamin C which supports healthy hair, nails, and skin, and aids iron and calcium absorption.
Though berries are on the expensive side, you can save money by shopping savvy. Look for sales when shopping for fresh berries in the grocery store, and always open the clam-shell box to examine them. If you see juice or mold, skip them and go to the frozen department. Pay less per pound by purchasing frozen berries in bulk (five pound bags) and look for frozen wild blueberries which are higher in antioxidants than their cultivated cousins. Another way to save is by picking your own.
Visit pickyourown.org to find a farm or orchard near you. In eastern Connecticut, strawberries are available in June, blueberries from mid July through August, and raspberries from July to the end of summer. Berries stay fresh three to seven days in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. To extend their life, spread berries out in single layer on a lined cookie sheet, freeze until solid, and transfer to heavy duty storage bags. Frozen berries and other fruit keep well for 12-18 months.
Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at firstname.lastname@example.org.