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Take It In: Berries are nature’s candy

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Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

Berries are nature’s candy, sweet, bite-sized, the perfect hand-to-mouth food. Thanks to global supplies, the most popular berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries – are available fresh nearly year round. More than a snack, berries make ideal ingredients in breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes such as smoothies, salsas and salads. Best of all, these sweet juicy fruits are berry, berry good for us.

The term superfood certainly applies to berries. Scientists have discovered that these nuggets of nutrients are chock full of disease-preventing substances. For example, one serving of strawberries (about eight) provides more of the powerful antioxidant vitamin C than an orange. The same portion of blackberries serves up nearly 8 grams of dietary fiber, or about one quarter of the daily recommendation.

Then, there are plentiful phytonutrients such as anthocyanins, which give raspberries their red blush and blueberries their blue hue, as well as quercetin. Another berry benefit is a low-calorie content, which ranges per cup from a high of 82 calories for blackberries to 46 calories for strawberries. Berries are also fat, cholesterol and sodium free.

Berries individually offer special health benefits, too.

Strawberries: Eat strawberries before or after a meal to help lose weight, plus prevent diseases caused by inflammation such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Researchers discovered these two facets last year when they asked 14 overweight healthy adults to consume a drink made of strawberries either 2 hours before a meal, with the meal or two hours after a meal.

Results showed that the pre- and post-meal strawberry drinkers experienced two advantages. First, they didn’t have a big spike in blood sugar and insulin levels, both factors that can lead to weight gain. Secondly, blood studies revealed lower levels of proinflammatory substances. This means fresh strawberries are a healthy between-meal snack.

Blueberries: Protect against the deadly skin cancer melanoma by eating blueberries. Scientists recently discovered that melanoma develops from cells that produce tyrosinase, a key substance in skin pigment. Lab experiments showed that one of the potent phytonutrients in blueberries, quercetin, is broken down by tyrosinase into a variety of compounds that have anticancer capabilities. These abilities are both preventative as well as therapeutic.

Blueberries aren’t just for making pies. The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council offers lots of crave-able and healthy recipes on its website such as Blueberry Quinoa Power Bowl, Grilled Salmon Flatbreads with Blueberry Salsa, and Savory Blueberry Pizza.

Raspberries. These heart-shaped gems are indeed cardiac friendly. Several studies over the past few years have brought to light the rich soup of nutrients, phytonutrients and fiber in raspberries that have blood pressure-reducing, blood fat-lowering and plaque-preventing actions. Combine raspberries with other good-for-you ingredients such as leafy greens, oatmeal and skim milk to make delicious, heart-healthy salads, cereal and smoothies.

Blackberries. Have a headache? Reach for a bowl of blackberries. All berries, especially blackberries, are a natural source of salicylic acid or the anti-inflammatory substance in aspirin. Research conducted a few years ago revealed that those eating vegetarian and vegan diets had the amount of salicylic acid in their blood equivalent to someone taking 75 mg of aspirin daily. The scientists theorized that salicylic acid may be one of the reasons behind the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.

Feel a big headache coming on? Fix a fruit salad with blackberries and other fruits high in salicylates such as blueberries, apricots and cantaloupe.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.

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