Berries Health Benefits and Recipes

Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Cranberries

Berries are low in sugar and high in many nutrients. JamieB/RooM/Getty Images

How I love berry season! Besides being delicious, berries are one of the best nutritional bargains around. Low in fat, carbs, and calories, but high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, these yummy nuggets of flavor not only contribute to overall health but may even help prevent cancer and heart disease, as well as slowing the aging process. And thanks to the freezer, we can have the advantages of berries year-round.

Basic Berry Nutrition

Berries are not only sources of concentrated flavor, but little packets of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. For example, a cup of sliced strawberries contains a whole day's requirement for vitamin C. A cup of blackberries contain a day's worth of manganese, while the same amount of raspberries supplies a third of our daily niacin needs. Blueberries and strawberries are even surprisingly good sources of vitamin E. And they all contain between 4 and 9 grams of fiber per cup.

Why are Berries So Good for Us?

The seeds of berries are mainly spread by birds and other animals; the bright colors of the berries help attract those seed-distributors. The skins of berries have to be thin enough so that they are easily eaten, but at the same time not vulnerable to pests and diseases. The chemicals which cause the color and protect the plant also turn out to be good for us.

Health Benefits

Many of these phytonutrients (such as anthocyanins, quercetin, and ellagic acid) have an antioxidant effect: They counter the natural oxidation in the body that contributes to aging of the tissues and many degenerative illnesses such as cancer, dementia, and damage to the arteries. One study of blueberries in the diet even showed improved memory of middle-aged rats. In fact, it's hard to think of a body part that isn't positively affected by these nutrients. Blueberries are especially high in these chemicals, perhaps the highest of all fruits.

Links to more information about individual berries, with links to recipes:

Berry Selection and Storage

Berries tend to spoil quickly, especially if they're broken or stored in damp conditions. Before buying, check them carefully for mold or broken berries. Also, don't rinse your berries until you're ready to eat them. If you can't eat them within a day or two, either freeze them or cook into a sauce (add a pinch of salt, and sweetener to taste) which can be refrigerated for up to a week (or frozen). Freezing and cooking do not damage most of the phytochemicals in the fruit, although cooking lowers the Vitamin C content.

Note on pesticides: Strawberries in particular, and to a lesser extent raspberries, tend to have more pesticides than other fruits and vegetables, unless they are organic. Some feel that it's worth seeking out organic produce, especially for the so-called "dirty dozen" fruits and vegetables.

Serving Suggestions

More Low-Carb Recipes with Berries

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