Berry nice

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They say dynamite comes in small packages. Well, berries are no exception. These tantalising fruits may be small in size, but they’re big in taste and health benefits.

Whether you like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries or raspberries, you can rest assured that all the different kinds of berries are packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plus, they’re low in kilojoules.

Unfortunately, berries can be expensive. Our advice? Plant your own, and freeze your summer crop to enjoy your favourite berries right throughout the year…

History
Humans have consumed berries for centuries. In fact, research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2008 reveals that a variety of wild berries, including serviceberry, highbush cranberry, chokeberry and silver buffaloberry, were traditionally used by native North Americans – both medicinally and as a food source.

Eaten fresh or dried, berries were a tradition in the diets of these tribal communities, where they were recognised for their role in promoting health and protecting against disease.

According to a review article by Dhiraj Vattem and co-workers from the University of Massachusetts, published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005, the juice of the cranberry, for instance, was used by populations in North America as a folk remedy to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs). To this day, cranberries are still used to treat and prevent UTIs.

Berries were also used medicinally in parts of South America. Research done by the University of Illinois in 2010 revealed that Aristotelia chilensis, a small, edible purple-black berry grown in central and southern Chile and western Argentina, was used in folk medicine to treat sore throats, kidney pains, ulcers, fever, haemorrhoids, inflammation, diarrhoea, lesions, migraines and scars.

Today, berry extracts and antioxidants can be found in thousands of alternative remedies, supplements and medications.

Health benefits
Berries are an important dietary source of fibre as well as vitamins (especially vitamin C) and minerals (including folic acid and potassium) – all of which are essential to human functioning.

Berries are also a superb source of phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, flavonols and polyphenols. These powerful antioxidants found in the berries’ colour pigments are known for their potential to protect against heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and ageing. It’s been noted that berries seem to play an important anti-inflammatory role in the body, which helps to protect it against chronic disease.

Many nutritionists regard blueberries, acai berries and goji berries as “superfoods”.

How to include berries in your diet
• Pop a few berries, fresh or dried, into a smoothie, or add some to your favourite breakfast cereal for an antioxidant boost, extra fibre and a kick of flavour.
• Sprinkle your favourite berries over a salad for some colour and a hint of sweetness.
• Can’t get yourself to drink enough water? Turn tap water into a delightful drink by adding a squeeze of lemon and a few berries for flavour.
• Cut overly sugary, fatty desserts from your diet and indulge in berries with vanilla yoghurt instead.
• Blitz a handful or two of berries, a dash of ice-cold water, and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar in a smoothie machine and enjoy over ice cream.

Tip: The darker and more colourful the berries, the healthier they are. So, add the dark berries to your shopping basket and eat them as fresh as possible.

- (Kelly Abrahams)

References:
- Kraft BTF, Dey M, Rogers RB, Ribnicky DM, Gipp DM, Cefalu WT, Raskin I, Lila MA. 2008. Phytochemical composition and metabolic performance-enhancing activity of dietary berries traditionally used by native north Americans. J Agric Food Chem. [cited 2014 Sept 16]; 56:654–660. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2792121/pdf/nihms152875.pdf
- Vattem DA, Ghaedian R, Shetty K. 2005. Enhancing health benefits of berries through phenolic antioxidant enrichment: focus on cranberry. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 14(2):120-130. Available from: http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/apjcn/14/2/120.pdf
- Schreckinger ME, Lotton J, Lila MA, de Mejia EG. 2010. Berries from South America: a comprehensive review on chemistry, health potential, and commercialization. Journal of medicinal food. 13(2), 233-246. Available from: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/41507142_Berries_from_South_America_a_comprehensive_review_on_chemistry_health_potential_and_commercialization
- Beattie J, Crozier, A, Duthie GG. 2005. Potential health benefits of berries. Current Nutrition & Food Science. 1(1):71-86. Available from: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/40712196_Potential_health_benefits_of_berries

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