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Berry good for you

By
Lynne Brown
BSc Hons, HDE, Dip Clin Nutr

 

Who would have thought that the common old mulberry tree found in many a backyard and considered to be a nuisance because of the stains its fruits leave on clothes or when they drop to the ground, is actually supplying us with a food that is a powerhouse of nutrients with amazing health benefits. Fact is, the more a fruit or vegetable stains your fingers, the higher its content of anthocyanins, the polyphenols responsible for giving it its strong colouring and the major contributors to the antioxidant activity of all berries. As we know, antioxidants attract and neutralize highly reactive free radicals that could otherwise damage body cells in ways that initiate cancer development, heart disease and age-related eye damage. Apart from having an abundance of these phytochemicals, mulberries and all other berries are also an excellent source of vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, with one cup of most berry varieties giving almost half the daily requirement of vitamin C for an adult. Vitamin C aids the formation of collagen, helps maintain healthy gums and capillaries and promotes iron absorption and a healthy immune system.

And then there’s resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grapes and red wine, that has been heavily publicised for its positive health benefits. These benefits include lowering cholesterol, preventing cancer, blood clots, diabetes and aiding in weight loss. A fact that is not well publicised is that resveratrol is abundant in mulberries!

Like all berries, mulberries are also an excellent source of vitamin B, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and iron and just a handful of most berry types can help you meet your daily fibre requirement. Sadly, in the past, very little research has ever been done on mulberries. However that is all changing with mulberries now set to become the new super-food.

Blueberries on the other hand have been the subject of many a study and their health benefits, although probably very similar to mulberries, are well documented. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, blueberries take first prize in the berry category when it comes to antioxidant activity per serving (ORAC values). Blueberries clock in at 2400 with mulberries and blackberries close seconds. This is why blueberries are touted as a super-food when it comes to anti-aging, cancer prevention, heart and vision health.

Other promising health benefits that have emerged in laboratory studies done on blueberries include:

  • improvement in motor skills and reversal of short term memory1
  • the potential of blueberries to inhibit the growth of Triple Negative Breast Cancer, a particularly aggressive and hard to treat form of breast tumor2,
  • may inhibit both the initiation and promotion stages of cancer3
  • may confer protection to the brain against damage from ischemic stroke4
  • may reduce plasma cholesterol levels especially LDL cholesterol5
  • could help regulate blood pressure and combat atherosclerosis6
  • may improve night vision and prevent tired eyes.

Cranberries, another amazing member of the berry family, have all the attributes of other berries but are also known as an aid to urinary tract health. Cranberry juice is used very effectively as an alternative to antibiotics, particularly for combating E. coli bacteria that have become resistant to conventional treatment. A group of tannins called proanthocyanidins found in cranberries prevent E.coli bacteria from adhering to the linings of the urinary tract. They do this by changing the shape of the bacteria from rods to spheres so that the bacteria are easily flushed out and urinary tract infections are avoided or treated. Note that unsweetened, highly concentrated fresh cranberry juice is required and since this is extremely sour, it is probably best to obtain capsules made either from the complete cranberry or the powdered juice of cranberries, for the prevention and treatment of opportune UTIs or cystitis.

Let’s not forget strawberries, which, in season, are usually more easily available than other berries. Ideally look for organic, firm, bright, juicy, fragrant berries with fresh green caps. If you remove the caps you tear cells in the berries, activating an enzyme that destroys vitamin C. If the berries are not organic, wash them thoroughly as strawberries are one of the most pesticide-sprayed fruit crops. Do not hull them before washing as this may reduce the nutritional value of the strawberry.

The healing health benefits of raw fruits and vegetables should never be underestimated and incorporating a wide variety of raw berries into your diet will ensure optimal health. It certainly seems we could all benefit by planting a mulberry tree in our back yards (away from the washing line of course)!

Recipes:

Berrie Lollies
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen mixed berries
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup organic cream (optional)
  • Xylitol or stevia to sweeten

Method:

  1. Blend all the ingredients till smooth
  2. Pour into lolly moulds and freeze for 3 to 4 hours.
  3. Place the frozen moulds under warm water for a few seconds before attempting to remove.

Blueberry smoothie
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup blueberries or mixed berries, fresh or frozen
  • 2 bananas, preferably frozen
  • 1½ plain low-fat yoghurt
  • Xylitol, stevia or raw honey to sweeten

Blend till smooth, adding iced water if necessary. Drink immediately.

References:

1. Nutritional Neuroscience. 2003; 6: 153-162
2.The Journal of Nutrition, August 31,2011; doi:10.3945/jn.111.140178
3.Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2004; 52(21): 6433-6442;
4.Nutritional Neuroscience. 2002; 5(6): 427-431
5.British Journal of Nutrition. 2008; 100(1): 70-78
6.Journal of Medicinal Food, 2009; Feb; 12 (1): 21-8

Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional.  All serious disease needs a physician.

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