Berries for Better Health

Jessica Cox

Berries are the summer staple that signal those "lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer." Fortunately for lovers of these colorful gems, berries aren't just about flavor. They are bursting with healthy nutrients, too.

Tennessee has long been a renowned source of blackberries. Thanks to improved growing practices, Tennesseans can now enjoy a wide range of fresh, local berries, including blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, in addition to the native blackberries. The first berries of the season, strawberries and raspberries, appear in May. Blueberries and blackberries follow in June, with availability continuing through August. When in season, local berries are conveniently available and sweeter, tastier, and less expensive than the berries you'll find in the grocery store year-round.

So why have these miniature fruits been labeled nutritional powerhouses and super fruits? First, all berries are a good source of antioxidants. In a 2006 article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries all ranked in the top ten foods with the highest antioxidant content per serving, with blackberries topping the list. Antioxidants help to protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, which are molecules produced naturally in the body and as a result of exposure to radiation, toxins such as tobacco smoke, and overexposure to the sun. Oxidative damage can contribute to the development of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. A diet rich in antioxidants, like those present in berries, may help to prevent these diseases.

There are more reasons to fill up on berries. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, which supports good immunity, and potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Berries, especially raspberries, also rank highly in fiber content among fruits. Just one cup of raspberries provides 9 grams of fiber, which is 36 percent of your daily fiber needs (based on a 2,000 calorie diet).

Berries are a low-calorie, naturally sweet treat which provide many healthful nutrients, unlike baked goods and similar desserts, which only offer empty calories. One cup of fresh berries has 80 calories or less and represents half of your daily recommended fruit intake. Indulge your sweet tooth all summer long with generous servings of fresh berries. You'll cut calories and their hefty dose of fiber will help keep you full and help control your weight.

For more information on the topics covered in this article, visit www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov.

Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Fruits and Veggies Matter, Southeast Farm Press

Jessica Cox is a Dietetic Intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She recently moved to Nashville from North Carolina, where she received her bachelor's degree in Public Health Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jessica plans to attend culinary school and enjoys cooking, exploring new restaurants, and hiking.