Berries: An Ounce of Prevention
A feast for the eyes as well as the palate, berries have moved beyond their traditional summertime slot to year-round availability, both fresh and frozen.
Photo courtesy of the Produce For Better Health Foundation.
By Christine Filardo, M.S., R.D.
Produce For Better Health Foundation
When it comes to taste, millions of us put raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries at the top of our list of treats. Years of bumper crops, increasing numbers of growers and improved quality and shipping of fruit from the southern hemisphere feed the flames of our berry passion with a now endless season for the jewel-like fruits.
The best news is a now year-round availability provides consumers with an excellent opportunity to add to their already increased options for enjoying health-promoting, disease-fighting fruits and vegetables. Berries in particular offer a wide range of important nutrients and phytochemicals, all of which spell better health through food.
Sixty percent of American adults are obese or overweight. One-third of our children are overweight or at risk for being overweight. This is more than a cosmetic problem. Obesity increases a person’s risk for cancer, heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Fighting the obesity epidemic effectively requires diets packed with foods that are nutrient-dense without being calorically dense. Berries, as well as other fruits and vegetables, do this and taste great too. There’s a lot of health punch in those pint-sized powerhouses (see table in attached pdf file).
|Anthocyanins are antioxidants which are responsible for the beautiful color of these and other berries. They are also being studied for their ability to prevent the decline of mental acuity.|
Increasingly important players in the world of nutrition, phytochemicals are the subject of thousands of studies aimed at learning more about their effect on health. Unlike traditional nutrients, a lack of phytochemicals is not linked to deficiency diseases such scurvy or night blindness. Phytochemicals are, however, proving to possess an ability to significantly impact health, either alone or in combination with traditional nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
Phytochemicals impact health by a variety of mechanisms. For example, they keep blood cells from sticking together, and they act as part of numerous complex chemical reactions governing the body’s systems. One of the most studied aspects of phytochemicals, however, is their ability to act as very powerful antioxidants.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are byproducts of normal bodily functions, but without antioxidants to slow them down they do serious damage to cells and tissues. Over a period of years this can lead to a number of diseases.
One significant class of phytochemicals in berries is called anthocyanins. They are responsible for the blue, purple and red color in berries. They are strong antioxidants currently studied for their ability to prevent the decline of mental acuity. The majority of this work has been done with rats, but the potential to prevent and even reverse brain aging is very impressive. It holds the potential for designing diets and can significantly impact the quality of life into the senior years.
Berries contain a host of other phytochemicals. As with other fruits and vegetables, we know only a fraction of these powerful compounds and are only beginning to understand their potential for decreasing and delaying disease. Phytochemicals are being studied for their ability to protect against cancer, ease the impact of arthritis by acting as anti-inflammatories and fight dozens of other diseases and dysfunctions. They help lower the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) by promoting stability of arterial plaque, improving flexibility of blood vessels and decreasing the tendency for blood clots to develop.ORAC:
Berries and other fruits and vegetables have an incredible number of components accounting for their health-promoting qualities, and their ability to act as antioxidants is just one of them. Berries have high oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) scores, indicating their strong antioxidant properties. It’s been well established eating more antioxidant-containing foods such as berries is an important part of a healthy diet.
Antioxidants protect the body from the damaging effects of free oxygen radicals. As we age, the cumulative effects of these free radicals makes it increasingly important to consume foods high in antioxidants to neutralize these free radicals.
|Getting the News Out |
A diet high in fruits and vegetables has long been associated with good health. This year the National Cancer Institute (NCI) issued the following dietary guidance endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration:
“Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer and other chronic diseases.”
Dole Foods, a leader in nutrition marketing, was the first to use this powerful statement on the packaging and in the marketing of its fruit and vegetable products. Berries have a strong nutrient profile that can be promoted with the use of this statement and nutrient content claims show in the following chart.
Berries, they taste great and are great for you. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Berries are an excellent source of fiber. The American diet generally fails to meet the recommended 14 g of fiber for each 1,000 calories. Our diets are so lacking in fiber that the Dietary Guidelines Committee focused on the need for increased fiber in its recently released report that will shape the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans due out in spring 2005.