Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nourishing Bytes: Berries

I am going to leave the remaining "power greens" for another post and blog about one of my favorite healthful food categories:  berries.  Berries are amazing little fruits.  Besides being extremely tasty, they are superfoods that contain some of the highest level of antioxidants known to man.

I am going to step back a minute, before going deep into a berry discussion, to talk about antioxidants.  I am going to use that term a lot in these "nourishing bytes" posts, so it is probably a good idea to talk about them a little bit.  Just as the name sounds, an antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules.  Why is oxidation bad?  Oxidation is a chemical reaction that produces free radicals. Free radicals start chain reactions in cells, which can cause damage or death to that cell.  Thus, free radicals are believed to play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

So, as I mentioned above, berries have a ton of antioxidants.  This is a very good thing.  Pasted directly from the berry health benefits website, below is a list of some of the superstar contents of berries.  For those of you who don't care about the scientific terms, just skip past the definitions to learn more about berries.

Anthocyanins:  Color pigments in berries that are powerful antioxidants. Blue, purple, and red color has been associated with a lower risk of certain cancers, urinary tract health, memory function, and healthy aging.
Antioxidants:  Substances that protect the body by neutralizing free radicals or unstable oxygen molecules, which can damage the cells and are a major source of disease and aging.
Catechins:  Catechins are flavonols that support the antioxidant defense system.Catechins found in caneberries are very similar to those found in green tea which studies show may contribute to cancer prevention. The catechins content found in 100 grams (about 3 /4 cup) is as follows: red raspberries, .83 milligrams and Evergreen blackberries, 1.4 milligrams.
Dietary Fiber:  Found only in plant foods, fiber helps maintain a healthy GI tract, lowers blood cholesterol, reduces heart disease and may prevent certain types of cancers.
Ellagic Acid:  A phenolic compound known as a potent anti-carcinogen which has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Scientists feel ellagic acid plays a major roll in cancer prevention and tumor reversal.
Fiber:  A carbohydrate-like substance found only in plants. Dietary fiber helps maintain a healthy
gastrointestinal tract and may help prevent certain types of cancers. It can also help to reduce blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease.
Gallic Acid: A potent antioxidant also found in black tea and red wine, shown in tests to inhibit cell proliferation and cell death in prostrate cancer cells.
ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity):  ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values are a measure of the antioxidant activity. Specifically, it measures the degree and length of time it takes to inhibit the action of an oxidizing agent. Antioxidants inhibit oxidation which is known to have a damaging effect on tissues. Studies now suggest that consuming fruits and vegetables with a high ORAC value may slow the aging process in both body and brain. Antioxidants are shown to work best when combined; the presence of fiber and other plant compounds enhance the health benefit. For this reason, a nutraceutical source is a more viable antioxidant option than that of a dietary supplement.
Single servings of fresh or freshly cooked fruits and vegetables supply an average of 600-800 ORAC units. Scientists believe that increasing intake of foods that provide 2000-5000 units per day may be needed to increase serum and tissue antioxidant activity sufficiently to improve health outcomes.
Phytochemicals:  Phytochemicals are naturally occurring antioxidants in plants that add flavor, color pigments and scent, and they are abundant in all types of fruits and vegetables, particularly berries.
The pigments that give berries their rich red to blue, black and purple colors are a type of phytochemical that has been shown to have significant disease-fighting, cell-protecting antioxidant capacity.
Quercetin:  A flavonol that works as both an anti-carcinogen, an antioxidant and protects against cancer and heart disease.
Rutin:  A bioflavonoid that promotes vascular health, helps to prevent cell proliferation associated with cancer and has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.
Salicylic Acid :  The salicylic acid found in Oregon caneberries may prove to have the same protective effect against heart disease as aspirin. Aspirin is a closely related compound know to pharmacists as salicylic acid acetate. The therapeutic successes of small daily doses of aspirin to inhibit atherosclerosis suggest the possibility that salicylic acid consumed in foods may provide a similar benefit. A 100-gram serving (about 3 /4 cup) of red raspberries contains around 5 milligrams of salicylic acid.
Vitamin C:  A water soluble vitamin that functions as a powerful antioxidant.

For those of you who are not interested in the scientific terms, how about this:  If someone offered you a pill that helped you feel full, lose weight (or maintain a healthy weight) and prevent disease would you take it?  Well, you don't have to rush to your doctor to get a prescription.  Just go to the supermarket and purchase some (organic) berries.  

Some of the easiest to find and eat berries include strawberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries.  Of course, there are so many other amazing berries available, but they are harder to find.  For example, the acai berry is packed full of nutrients, but they aren't available at all supermarket produce departments since they are native to the rain forests of South America.

We always have berries at home.  If they aren't in season, you can easily buy frozen berries.   We use the frozen berries in smoothies, in healthful pancakes, as a side fruit salad and we even defrost them and put them atop salads.  My favorite way to eat berries is on top of salad.  

Strawberries, blackberries and cranberries atop a spinach, kale and arugula salad.  (Paired with a mushroom and wild rice casserole and a little bit of chicken).  I love this meal and made it for our family a few nights ago.
We keep a TON of fresh fruit at our house.  The key is to keep the fruit in sight.  So, we have a huge bowl of oranges, apples, bananas and pears on the kitchen table.  We also make sure we keep the berries in the front of the fridge so we can see them each time we open the fridge door. When we get hungry for a snack, the first thing we think of is fresh fruit.  We eat fruit and veggies literally all day long.  You can eat fruits all day long and never feel badly about your decision to do so.  In fact, you will be feeling great physically and mentally with a daily dose!

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