Welcome to our Food for Thought Blog Series that will aim to address these questions and more each month! Tune in for expert nutritional tips from Masha Fox-Rabinovich, outpatient dietitian and diabetes educator at Washington Adventist Hospital, and savvy cooking techniques from Randall Smith, executive chef for Adventist HealthCare.
Berries are small fruits that are packed with a myriad of antioxidants and other phytonutrients, which are chemicals found in plants that help the body function properly. They are best obtained through whole foods instead of supplements due to their synergistic effects. In other words, foods are more than the sum of their individual nutrients; single phytochemicals are not as powerful as when they are consumed together, the way they occur alongside each other in foods. Approximately 5,000 individual phytochemicals have been identified, and berries are especially high in many of them.
There is research linking berry consumption with:
- Cardiovascular health benefits; berries in the diet have been shown to help to increase HDL cholesterol levels, decrease total cholesterol, improve platelet function, and lower blood pressure
- Blood glucose regulation and decreased risk type 2 diabetes and obesity
- Anti-cancer properties
Many of berries’ health benefits come from their powerful antioxidant function. Antioxidants protect the body from oxidative stress, which targets cells within all systems of the body, including cells that support cardiac function and glucose metabolism. Moreover, cells in the retina and nerve cells are at a higher risk of oxidative damage than other cells, and eating berries can help protect eye health and nervous system function. Some studies show that berries may help improve memory and coordination, and otherwise play a role in healthy cognitive function. Furthermore, berries are dense with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that help combat chronic inflammation caused by toxic environments, sedentary lifestyles, stress, and poor diets.
Health Benefits of Raspberries
Some health benefits of one of my favorite berries: raspberries:
- Much research is underway investigating raspberries’ role in reducing obesity and type 2 diabetes risk.
- Rheosmin, also known as raspberry ketone, is an enzyme in raspberries that’s been studied for its ability to increase the metabolism of fat cells.
- Tiliroside, a type of flavonoid (also found in rose hips and strawberries), helps activate adiponection, a hormone produced by fat cells that is less active in individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes.
- Raspberries have shown to block the activity of alpha-glucosidase, a starch-digesting enzyme that can cause spikes in blood glucose after eating.
- A cup of raspberries has around 8 grams of fiber– more than double the fiber found in a medium-sized orange or one cup of oatmeal!
- Fully ripe raspberries have been shown to have significantly higher antioxidant activity than under-ripe berries.
- Organic raspberries were shown to have higher antioxidant activity than non-organic berries. Choose organic berries if you can, but any berries are better than none!
Berry Health Tips
- Try to eat berries every day! At the very least, include berries in your diet at least 3-4 day each week.
- Add berries to salads to add healthy carbs instead of less nutritious carbs such as croutons.
- Add berries to hot or cold cereals to add color and sweetness. Toss in a handful of frozen berries to hot cereal as it cooks. (Frozen berries are just as healthy as fresh berries. If buying frozen berries at the grocery store, be sure to check that the ingredient list does not have added sugar.)
- Mix fresh berries into plain Greek yogurt. The sweetness of ripe berries adds is a perfect complement to tart Greek yogurt, and creates a nutritionally balanced snack (Yogurt provides protein and berries provide healthy carbs). Similarly, enjoy berries alongside various nuts to create a satiating snack that’s better for you than any granola bar you’ll find at the grocery store.
It’s the perfect time of year to visit a farm that allows you to pick-your-own berries. It’s neat to see them grow and they are delicious straight from plant!