When I was little, I waited all year for the fresh cherries and blueberries to make an appearance in our kitchen. My sisters and I would stain our fingers crimson after chomping on those juicy, delectable morsels. All we cared about was how great they tasted. What we didn’t know was just how darned healthy they are, too.
Apart from their tantalizing flavors, berries are also a high fiber, low fat and low calorie food, so you can enjoy a portion large enough to fill you up without blowing your healthy-eating diet. They offer a wide array of vitamins and minerals; and, like any deeply colored fruits or vegetables, they’re bursting with flavonoids (plant compounds) that can boost overall health. In fact, most berries contain antioxidants that help reduce inflammation throughout the body, and they can help to prevent various cancers as well.
Many studies have shown that blueberries, in particular, regularly rate at the top of the list for highest antioxidant-rich foods. And, like cranberries, they contain a substance that may prevent urinary tract infections by stopping bacteria from adhering to the bladder walls. Blueberries can also help prevent cardiovascular disease; they keep your brain in tiptop shape; they fight cancer, and more. Not bad for little globes that contain only 84 calories per cup.
Strawberries are no slouch in the health department, either. They’re the number one fruit source of Vitamin C, outranking all others (yes, even oranges), and providing more than twice as much of this important vitamin as the average of all fruits. Recent research has demonstrated that strawberries can help keep cognitive functioning sharp as we age (something this Baby Boomer surely appreciates!). Raspberries, too, can help to maintain low blood sugar and can reduce the incidence of fatty liver; they may also help the body fight obesity.
But don’t forget to branch out with your berries! Besides these big three (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), be sure to give some of the less visible varieties, such as cranberries, blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries or gooseberries a try. Most of us know that cranberries can help prevent UTIs (urinary tract infections), but they also promote good cardiovascular health (even more so when consumed fresh rather than in dried form or as juice). But all berries offer their own unique health benefits.
There are myriad ways to incorporate these seasonal fruits into your meals and snacks, starting with eating them straight out of hand (one of my favorite ways to consume them). But let’s move beyond sprinkling a bowl of cold cereal with berries! Next time you see these delightful fruits at the farmers’ market, grab a basket and experiment with some of the following:
Add berries to breakfast: Toss your fresh or frozen berries into smoothies, add to oatmeal, pancakes, muffins, or waffles. Or try out a breakfast parfait! No-cook varieties brimming with fruits are a great morning meal.
Berry Up Your Meals: Who says berries need to be used in sweet foods? How about some fabulous savory salads made with fresh blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries, or adding them directly to the dressings, salsa or sauces? Try adding sliced berries to sandwiches (great with PB, or even tofu). Or use the whole berries themselves and dip into a big bowl of sweet hummus.
Desserts and Beverages: Classic berry-laden desserts like cheesecake, pies, cakes and pastries are always popular. How about adding ice cream, pudding, Danish, or frozen creamsicles to the mix, too? You can even make fresh berry sodas.
Enjoy this season’s berry bounty, and improved health at the same time. (Just watch you don’t stain those fingertips!)