They're perfect for summer picnics or with champagne as a Valentine's Day treat. But it's their potent body benefits that make berries an ideal ingredient any time of the year.
Whether you prefer strawberries, blueberries, cranberries or the more exotic goji berries, grab a handful of these
pint-sized powerhouses to help keep your heart healthy, your vision clear and your brain sharp.
Beneficial for: your brain
These indigo-coloured fruits can boost memory and may even help ward off dementia. When a small group of older adults with early signs of memory decline drank two cups of blueberry juice every day for three months, they saw significant improvements in their ability to both learn and remember things.1
Beneficial for: your eyes
These tiny red berries are a rich source of zeaxanthin, a carotenoid crucial for eye health. In a three-month study of healthy elderly volunteers, a milk-based goji berry drink boosted blood levels of zeaxanthin and appeared to protect against macular degeneration (progressive damage to the eye's retina)-a common problem among older adults.2
Beneficial for: your food pipe
Not just a sweet treat for Valentine's Day, this 'food of love' may also have the power to protect against cancer of the food pipe (oesophagus)-one of the top 10 causes of cancer death in the world. Eating 60 g of freeze-dried strawberries a day for six months can improve precancerous lesions in the oesophagus and may even prevent them in the first place, according to research from Ohio State University in the US.3
Beneficial for: your urinary tract
Cranberry juice, that old folk remedy for cystitis and other urinary tract infections (UTIs), actually has some science to support its use. Lab research shows it has a detrimental effect on the bacteria responsible for UTIs, while human studies suggest that people who drink it regularly, especially women, are less likely to suffer from UTIs.4
Beneficial for: your digestive system
A mouse study by researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Connecticut hints that black raspberries may be useful for the prevention and treatment of ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disorder that can increase the risk of colon cancer. Freeze-dried black raspberries had a potent anti-inflammatory effect in mice with chemically induced ulcerative colitis, although we've yet to see whether these results apply to people too.5
Beneficial for: your heart
Eating berries may have heart-protecting effects, Finnish research suggests. When middle-aged men and women ate two portions of berries (100 g of berries plus a small glass of a berry drink) or a placebo every day for two months, the berry-eaters saw systolic blood-pressure reductions of up to 7.3 mmHg, while levels of HDL ('good') cholesterol rose by more than 5 per cent.
The berry group-who ate an assortment of bilberries, lingonberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, chokeberries and raspberries-also showed positive changes in the function of their platelets (specialized blood cells involved in clotting).6
So what's the secret ingredient in berries that makes them so good for the body?
Although berries contain beneficial micro- and macronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, folate and fibre, their various biological properties have been largely attributed to their high levels and wide variety of phytochemicals, including flavonoids, tannins and phenolic acids (known as 'bioactives'). In particular, anthocyanins-flavonoid pigments that give berries their bright colours-appear to have a wide range of antioxidant, anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties.1
Lab studies offer evidence that berries have powerful effects on the body and brain. In rats, anthocyanins from blueberries can cross the blood-brain barrier and collect in brain areas that are important for learning and memory.1 In the lab, black raspberry anthocyanins can kill and inhibit the growth of oesophageal cancer cells and even alter the expression of genes related to tumour growth.2
Finally, it's likely that berry body benefits are due to a synergistic or additive effect of the many phytochemicals they contain rather than being the result of a single component acting alone.3
WDDTY vol 23 no 11
1. Nutr Neurosci, 2005; 8: 111-20
2. Nutr Cancer, 2009; 61: 816-26
3. J Agric Food Chem, 2008; 56: 627-9
Strawberry custard pie
Dr Annemarie Colbin, bestselling author of Food and Healing and The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones, has come up with a luscious strawberry 'custard' pie recipe that doesn't require dairy (or wheat, if you substitute the gluten-free flour). Make this as a healthy Valentine's Day treat and add a variety of berries to pack an extra punch!
Time: 40 minutes; 2 hours to chill
For the crumble crust:
1/4 cup (60 mL) corn oil
3 Tbsp water
A dash of sea salt
1 1/2 cups (180 g) wholewheat or gluten-free flour
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small bowl, beat the oil, water and salt with a fork or wire whisk. Place the flour in a 2-quart (2-L) bowl and pour the oil mixture over the flour, rubbing lightly between the hands until the flour is thoroughly moistened. (The mixture should hold its shape when squeezed).
- Place the flour mixture in a lightly oiled 9-inch (23-cm) pie plate and pat down firmly. Form the edge by applying pressure with the thumb along the rim of the pie plate.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges and the centre are lightly browned.
- Remove the crust from oven and allow to cool.
For the strawberry filling:
1 pint (340 g) strawberries
2 cups (475 mL) apple juice
1 cup (240 mL) water
3 Tbsp tahini
1/4 cup (60 mL) maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
8 Tbsp kuzu (available from healthfood shops)
- Wash strawberries and remove leaves and stems. Place all but seven of the strawberries in a blender, add the remaining ingredients and pur'ee until smooth.
- Transfer the mixture into a saucepan over high heat, stirring continuously until it thickens and becomes creamy. Pour into the prebaked pie crust.
- Slice six of the remaining strawberries in half. Place along the outer circle of the pie like clock numerals; place the last strawberry in the centre.
- Transfer the pie to the fridge and allow it to set.
- Serve by slicing between the strawberry halves.