By Nicole Parmenter, Dietetic Intern for FitNutrition, LLC and Providence College Athletics with Katie Jeffrey, MS, RDN, CSSD
Summer is upon us and that means berry season is in full swing! Summer brings all kinds of delicious produce, however, berries are the true seasonal gems. In the height of the season, berries are at their best—plump, juicy, delicate and sweet. It’s easy to see why berries are frequently listed as “super foods.” They boast some of the best nutrition around. Berries offer an important nutritional piece in the diet and receive lots of attention due to their anti-cancer and anti-inflammation properties.
Berries are good sources of vitamin C, folate and fiber, as well as several minerals. Vitamin C is a notable antioxidant found in most berries. It supports collagen health and helps to maintain cartilage and joint flexibility. Folate is vital for the formation of red and white blood cells in bone marrow, for fetal development, and for the prevention of neural tube defects and the excess production of homocysteine levels (which have been associated with cardiovascular disease and depression). Fiber is important because it helps reduce cholesterol and blood pressure and maintain blood sugar levels, which is why berries can help manage diabetes.
Berries are well-known for their highly active phytochemicals—polyphenols, anthocyanins, and quercetin. The beneficial compounds in berries have long been associated with pharmacologic effects.
Polyphenols exhibit anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic characteristics to help fight oxidative stress in the body. Berries, in particular, contain ellagic acid which is a special polyphenol. Ellagic acid contains anti-cancer and anti-mutagenic properties which prohibit cancerous cells from taking over healthy cells. Of all the berries, raspberries have the highest amount of ellagic acid.
Anthocyanins are responsible for the blue, purple and red hues of berries. They exhibit positive effects on cardiovascular health. Their anti-inflammation properties help reduce inflammation and their anti-cancer properties help inhibit promotion and progression of cancerous cells. Likewise, quercetin also contains anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin along with kaempferol, another phytochemical also found in berries, work together to inhibit the promotion of cancerous cells.
Summer berries offer the most flavor and sweetness, making them the perfect nutrient-rich snack or dessert. They also make great toppings for salads, hot cereals, granola and yogurt. When fresh berries are unavailable, opt for frozen berries; they are usually picked in season and flash-frozen so they can be enjoyed year-round.
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