The summer months are berry months. One after another, luscious, brightly coloured red and black berries flood gardens, greengrocers and supermarkets across the land, combining sheer deliciousness with vitamins and nutrients packed into every mouthful. Don’t miss the opportunity to over-indulge. Berries are one of the simplest ways to boost your health, upping antioxidants and lowering levels of inflammation, bowl by delicious bowl.
Berries and blood sugar
Fruit in the UK is often tasteless. Imported from sunnier climes, but refrigerated while still green, it's a far cry from the sun-ripened offerings found in the markets of France, Italy and Spain, where you can taste the sweetness of the sunshine in every bite. Despite tasting so fabulously sweet, berries are the one sort of sugar that doesn't spike your blood sugar levels and leave you with the soaring high and fast falling low of a glycaemic crash.
Are non-organic berries safe to eat?
British berries hold their own during the short period of time we call summer in England, so make the most of them. Eat them ripe, eat them raw and whenever possible buy organic. Be extremely wary of the sprayed variety; you are downing mouthfuls of chemicals, rather outweighing their natural benefits. The perfection of the glowing non-organic berry on your table is usually the result of multiple chemical sprayings by the farmers who grow them. The US department of agriculture found more than 6 different pesticides in each sample they tested in 2014, many of them hormone-disrupting and carcinogenic. In this year's 2019 ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of the most pesticide filled fruits and vegetables, strawberries came top of the list yet again, for the fourth year running.
So which berries have the biggest health benefits?
Health benefits of blackberries
If you want to up your antioxidant levels naturally, without swallowing endless supplement capsules or pills, then eating blackberries is the way to do it. Blackberries have the highest levels of all the berries, and they are also rich in vitamin C, manganese and vitamin K. They contain quercetin, which helps decrease the risk of heart problems and helps prevent the development of liver, lung and colon cancer. Blackberries also contain high levels of vitamins C, E and ellagic acid which together fight cancer and other chronic diseases.
Health benefits of strawberries
Strawberries have been shown in studies to protect against several types of cancer, particularly breast cancer, colon cancer and leukaemia. They contain potassium, folate and fibre and are high in antioxidants and anthocyanins, which boost the health of your blood vessels and nervous system. Strawberries reduce macular degeneration, and also contain many of the B vitamins alongside iodine, magnesium and copper. Tests have also shown that eating strawberries regularly decreases inflammation and controls Type 2 diabetes. In consistent amounts, over a period of time, strawberries also lower homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease.
Health benefits of blueberries
Nowadays you seem to be able to buy organic blueberries year round so if it's the only step you take to reboot your health, make them a part of your daily diet. They are packed full of anthocyanidins which wipe out the free radicals that damage our cells and speed up ageing. Blueberries contain high levels of Vitamin C, alongside manganese (which we all need for healthy bones and brain function) and Vitamin K which also keeps bones strong and wards off heart disease. Tests have found that blueberries reduce the chance of developing cataracts, haemorrhoids, glaucoma and stomach ulcers. And they increase night vision and improve overall vision as well as protecting against macular degeneration. Scientific studies have also found that eating blueberries regularly may prevent prostate cancer. Blueberries are also said to improve memory. Who knew that a blueberry bowl a day may keep Alzheimer's away?
Health benefits of raspberries
Quercetin slows the growth of cancer tumours and raspberries contain loads. They also contain anthocyanins, alongside selenium and phosphorus, and are high in ellagic acid which has been shown to have anti-cancer properties and reduce inflammation. Ellagic acid also helps control symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. Latest studies show that ellagitannins in raspberries may be able to send signals that encourage cancer cells to self destruct (apoptosis). In other research studies, raspberries have been shown to prevent liver cancer and affect prostate cancer and cancer of the oesophagus. Raspberries also help control blood sugar levels if you suffer from diabetes.
And raspberries just might be just what you want on your latest weight loss kick. Apparently, the metabolism in our fat cells can be sped up by the ketones found in raspberries, which decrease weight gain and prevent fat absorption. I don't know about you, but I would willingly swap the cabbage soup diet for the raw raspberry programme!
Health benefits of mulberries
When I was a child we had a huge mulberry tree in the garden, and all I knew about it was that they were the favoured food of silk worms. No one told me that mulberries are equally good for humans too! They protect against cancer, ageing and boost your brain. Full of anthocyanins, they also contain resveratrol, iron, vitamin C, E and A and zeaxanthin which protects the retina of the eye. B vitamins and Vitamin K alongside potassium, manganese and magnesium mean they pack a powerful punch! Mulberries come in various shades of pink, but the darker the colour the sweeter the taste.
Health benefits of blackcurrants
Sharp and astringent and much better tasting stewed than raw, these blend well into smoothies or can be mixed into summer fruit salads, summer puddings and fools. Drink them as a cordial or freeze into a perfect ice cream or sorbet. Blackcurrants are your natural defence against viruses and bacteria, calming inflammation and boosting collagen. They are full of GLA and linoleic acid which research shows may help dry and tired over-computer exposed eyes. Stiffness or pain anywhere in your body? The same compounds relieve muscle and joint pain. Make your own blackcurrant juice - or grab a bottle of Ribena off the supermarket shelves as an easier option - and you may find that its high levels of potassium and GLA will also successfully reduce your blood pressure. The French invented crème de cassis, the blackcurrant syrup that forms the base of the much loved, and clearly healthy, Kir Royale. An excellent excuse for a cocktail.
Do you have any berry recipes? I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment below, or visit my Facebook or Instagram and let’s talk!
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Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health.
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