We all may have our favourite types of berries (I know I certainly do), but it’s rare to meet a person who doesn’t like berries. They’re flavourful, can be used in a wide variety of recipes and they are incredibly good for us. Berries, like many other fruits and vegetables, are rich in an array of nutrients that can support good health. Let’s talk about why!
Key Phytonutrients in Berries
I’ll get into the key benefits of specific berries further along in this post, but in general berries are fantastic sources of:
Berries contain an enormous range of antioxidants that help prevent free radical damage and reduce inflammation. Some of the notable antioxidants found in berries include a class of compounds called anthocyanins, which are responsible for the deep, vibrant berry colours.
Also an antioxidant, Vitamin C helps us boost immunity, produce collagen, reduce our allergic response, and supports the adrenal and thyroid glands.
This mineral helps with blood sugar control, helps our bones and joints develop and grow, and is a cofactor in an enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the major antioxidant enzymes in our bodies.
This mineral plays a role in energy production, helps Vitamin C produce collagen and bone, and is a also cofactor in the production of superoxide dismutase (SOD).
Fiber is essential to blood sugar balance, maintaining a healthy weight, lowering cholesterol levels and supporting digestive health (regular bowel movements, supporting healthy gut bacteria, etc.).
General Health Benefits of Berries
Berries are ‘bery’ good for us! Here are some of the reasons why.
The antioxidants in berries can protect against cancer in a number of ways: they prevent inflammation, inhibit DNA damage, induce cancer cell death and prevent cancerous cells from spreading. Research indicates that berries can play a role in a few specific types of cancer including colon cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Eating berries is good for your brain. In a 25-year observational study of over 16,000 women, researchers found that a higher intake of strawberries and blueberries was linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline. Other evidence has shown that berries can help prevent brain aging, enhance brain signalling and neuroplasticity, improve our memory, and protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for a number of painful and debilitating diseases such as obesity, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, diabetes and more. Research about the anthocyanins in berries shows that they can help modulate inflammatory pathways in the body, leading to reduced inflammation. Berry antioxidants can also help modulate the immune system, which can play an important role in preventing (or exacerbating) inflammation.
Blood Sugar Balance
Berries are rich in fiber and are low on the glycemic index, making them a wonderful food for blood sugar balance. In a review of three longitudinal studies spanning about 20 years each, researchers found that whole fruit consumption of berries, grapes and apples lowered the risk of participants developing Type 2 diabetes. Those who drank fruit juice, rather than eating the whole fruits, had a higher risk of diabetes. Similarly, another meta-analysis of berry studies found that the anthocyanins in berries were linked to a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Further research has shown that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of berries can help prevent metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that include obesity, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance. Metabolic syndrome can put you at higher risk of conditions such as Type 2 diabetes.
Evidence indicates that the antioxidants in berries can improve cardiovascular health by reducing total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides, as well as lower your risk of metabolic syndrome, making berries a great choice for your heart.
Vision and Eye Health
Key nutrients in berries such as Vitamin C help to lower the risk of age-related eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, while the anthocyanins boost retinal health, and help us maintain good vision.
Guide to Berries
There are many different types of berries you can enjoy – for this post, I’m focusing on the ones that are widely and locally available in North America.
Why Eat Them?
- Have the highest amount of Vitamin C of all the berries
- Increase our antioxidant capacity
- Have been shown to lower cardiovascular risk factors
- Anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Reduce risk of total mortality
Why Eat Them?
- Are great for your brain – they improve memory and cognitive function, and reduce rates of cognitive decline
- Reduce oxidative stress and inflammation
- Inhibit cancer cells and induce cancer cell death
- Lower blood pressure
- Positively impact the balance of bacteria in the gut
Why Eat Them?
- Inhibit cancer cells in the colon, prostate, breast and mouth
- May help with weight loss, as well as reduce obesity-related inflammation and pain
- Reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in cardiovascular disease
- Help improve insulin sensitivity
Why Eat Them?
- Inhibit tumor cell growth
- Increase fat burning and improves insulin sensitivity
- May protect against sun damage
- Protect the brain against neurodegenerative diseases
Why Eat Them?
- Can help prevent and treat urinary tract infections
- Prevent bacteria from ‘sticking’ to the urinary tract
- Inhibits h.pylori infections
- Reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease
Why Eat Them?
- Contain an abundance of protein and minerals
- Boost the immune system
- Help protect the brain
- Contributes to general feeling of wellbeing
- Inhibit cancer cells and tumor growth
How to Choose Berries
In order to obtain the best health benefits of berries that we can, the source of your berries is important. Berries are one of the most highly sprayed crops, so conventional varieties will likely have a great number of herbicides and pesticides. Whenever possible, I like to choose wild berries – but make sure your berries are actually wild and not just a victim of marketing. Foraging can be a great option depending on where you live; otherwise farmer’s markets are a good option.
Other berry-buying tips:
- Buy berries when they are in season – for most of us in North America, that is the summertime
- Wash berries right before eating – this is not a snack you want to wash and prep in advance
- When storing berries, ensure they are in a container that is dry and allows for air circulation so they don’t get moldy or squished
Berry Eating Ideas
There are many wonderful ways to eat berries, including:
- On their own as a healthy snack
- Blended into a smoothie
- On top of porridge or dairy-free yogurt
- Blended into fruit rollups
- Baked into gluten-free baked goods like muffins and breads
- Cooked into jam
- Freeze extras for winter enjoyment
The best way to glean the health benefits of berries is to eat them! Pick your favourites, eat them often while they are in season, and enjoy!