The Power of Berries- Colourful and Kick-Ass Nutrition
Berries are amazing.
The most exciting news about berries is their abundant anti-cancer and anti-aging benefits! Our bodies need antioxidants to protect us from degenerative diseases such as cancer, dementia, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
The phytonutrients in plants, like berries, with their antioxidant ‘powers’, step up to fight oxidation and inflammation.
Scientists have developed a way to measure the antioxidant capacity of fruits and vegetables, called oxygen radical absorptive capacity (ORAC). While the ORAC is not a perfect measure of antioxidant’s potential, it does help to qualitative a food’s disease-fighting potential!
Research as found berries to have some of the highest antioxidant levels of any fruits, and kale and spinach are the only vegetables with ORAC values as high as delicious berries. What’s not to love?
What are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are naturally occurring plant compounds that influence how our genes work. What’s really cool about this feature is that phytonutrients help to turn on disease-fighting genes and turn off disease-promoting genes.
Phytonutrients are also potent antioxidants. These compounds give plants their respective flavour, colour and scent, and phytonutrients are abundant in all types of fruits and vegetables, particularly berries. The prefix ‘phyto’ simply means plant.
Antioxidants are a great ally in your health journey. They intercept the bad guys like damaging free radicals found in air pollution and cigarette smoke. Free radicals are also made from some of the foods we eat such as foods with trans fats, fried foods, and foods with a lot of added sugar-rich foods.
Other sources of free radicals include excess sun exposure and everyday environmental toxins. Luckily your bodies produce antioxidants to fight these radicals but your diet is another great source. In technical terms, antioxidants help to prevent oxidation and the subsequent damage to bodily structures like proteins, fats in your cells and your DNA.
Think of it as rust-proofing your body.
Berries’ phytonutrients have been shown to protect the lining of the lungs from the effects of air pollution – important no matter where you live: city or countryside. In addition to boosting your immune system, studies are beginning to show a possible role for these compounds in slowing the effects of aging by improving things like memory, balance, coordination and motor skills (muscles also need antioxidant protection – don’t forget them!).
Good news! Berries are always with us!
Whether they’re fresh, local and seasonal berries or frozen, now is a great time to include more berries into your daily diet. Add them to smoothies, use them to make fresh fruit salad, throw them on top of Greek yogurt, ricotta or cottage cheese with bran cereal (my favourite!) or top your favourite whole grain cereal [oatmeal, oatbran etc] for some added nutritional punch and colour. Stew some to make a great tasting fruit compote.
PRO TIP: Remember, frozen berries are just as nutritious – they work well as they won’t spoil as quickly and they allow you to eat berries all year round.
Doug Cook RDN is a Toronto based integrative and functional nutritionist and dietitian with a focus on digestive, gut, mental health. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.