Diet and Nutrition – Blog Series Berries are Everywhere!

Berries Everywhere, All Summer!

Berries are bursting with vitamins and minerals, many of which are classified as antioxidants?  July is National Berry Month and here are just a few facts about berries and fun, yummy ways to get them into your diet!

In addition to the nutrition facts on berries being fat free, cholesterol free and high in dietary fiber and vitamin C, blueberries and strawberries are at the top of the list of antioxidant-rich foods.  Antioxidants help protect our bodies from free radicals which can damage our cells.  The bad news is that free radicals are unavoidable toxic sources that occur in our daily lives, e.g. car exhaust, cleaning detergents, ozone.  Our body also does not produce enough antioxidants to protect our cells from free radicals; therefore, we must obtain them through dietary sources or dietary supplementation which makes the berry the perfect food!

Berry colors are due to natural pigments synthesized by the berry plant.  Medical research has uncovered medicinal properties of pigmented polyphenols such as flavonoids, anthocyanins and tannins and other phytochemicals localized mainly in berry skins and seeds.  Berry pigments are usually antioxidants that have oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) that is high among plant foods.  Together with good nutrient content, ORAC distinguishes several berries within a new category of functional foods called “superfruits”.  The best way to benefit from these superfruits is simply through enjoying them as a whole food.

It’s fun and easy to explore fruits at a farmers’ market which are plentiful at this time of year.  Two very good reasons to buy from the local farmers’ markets:  (1) they are locally planted and, hopefully, come with less pesticides than the big national industrial farms (2) since it’s a local farm, it goes from farm to your table and will be much fresher, not to mention, you support your local farmers!

Shopping for Berries:

Look for containers without stains, moisture or mold.  Berries should be firm, plump and dry.  Strawberries don’t ripen after harvest so stay away from green or yellow ones.  Steer clear of blueberries that are green or blackberries that are red.  When buying frozen berries, shake the bag first.  A big lump is a sign of defrost.

Storing Berries:

Discard any damaged berries before they spoil the rest.  Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries last longer stored in the produce drawer in the fridge or in a sealed container.  Keep blackberries uncovered and they can last for one week in the fridge, but are nutritionally best if eaten within three days.

Preparing to Eat Berries:

Rinse in cold water just before consuming.  Add to low-fat yogurt, ice cream, whole grain cereals, salads or smoothies.  For a low-calorie jam, bake them in the oven at 400 degrees for ten minutes.  No need to add sugar as they have natural sugars.

Freeze berries to enjoy long after the season ends.  Spread them on a baking sheet and freeze for a few hours, then transfer them to a freezer bag.

Have fun at the farmers’ market, enjoy and be well!

Sherry Jenko, DTR and Wellness Coach