Probably the most nutritious, health-protective foods in the world, berries are true heroes. They contain a wide range of essential nutrients and a whole lot more – a wealth of health-defending antioxidants which have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties and are great for your digestive system.
Even though berries are sweet, they don’t contain much sugar because much of their volume is pumped up by water. What little sugar they provide is well-balanced by the amount of fibre in them so it’s a healthy equation. Berries won’t cause sudden blood sugar spikes and as such are also a great food for diabetics.
Much of the health benefits berries provide are due to the phytochemicals they contain. These potent compounds protect plants against bacterial and fungal infections, UV radiation and environmental damage and they serve a similar purpose in our bodies.
An almost magical bunch of compounds berries contain are called phenols or phenolic compounds. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, have been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, including heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and neurodegenerative diseases. On top of that, they also encourage beneficial bacteria in your gut!
Anthocyanins are a type pf phenolic compound – they're pigments responsible for the bright red, blue and purple colour of many fruits, vegetables and flowers but they also have strong health-protective properties. They are antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, have been linked to lower risk of heart disease and even cancer. Anthocyanins tend to be concentrated in the skin of fruits but berries that have a brightly coloured flesh, such as strawberries, blackberries or raspberries, contain more as the whole fruit is saturated with them.
As well as containing the powerful phenols, strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and the important mineral manganese. They also contain decent amounts of folate (vitamin B9) and potassium.
Strawberries have some powerful antioxidants, such as pelargonidin – responsible for their bright red colour – and ellagic acid, which helps to strengthen your immune system.
Whenever you can, buy organic strawberries for maximum health benefits. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to buy strawberries when they’re in season, so they’re local and cheaper – if it’s not strawberry season, go for frozen, rather than imported from far away.
Superfood strawberries agree with most people but not all – some people, who are allergic to tree pollen, are also allergic to strawberries. This kind of allergy includes itching or tingling in the mouth, hives, headaches, swelling of the lips, face, tongue or throat, even breathing problems in severe cases. Funnily enough, if you suffer from this allergy but love strawberries, you may be able to eat white strawberries – cultivated so they’re suitable for people with this issue.
Wild raspberries have been gathered by people for millennia and although cultivation may have changed their colour varieties and size, they are still chockful of nutrients. They’re a great source of antioxidants, vitamins C and E, folate, magnesium and even iron!
Raspberry specialty are the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which can help protect your eyes from blue light damage and prevent macular degeneration.
It’s best to buy organic whenever you can and keep a bag of frozen raspberries on hand for adding to your breakfast, smoothies and desserts.
Blackberries are simply amazing – with all the benefits of other berries, including antioxidants, vitamins C and E, folate, potassium and then some! Their bonus nutrients are vitamin A – essential for healthy vision, immune system and many vital reactions in your body – and vitamin K, essential for blood clotting, bone health and your immune system.
A cup of blackberries also covers about half of your daily need for the mineral manganese, necessary for good bone health, immune system and healing.
Just like blackberries, blueberries contain lots of vitamin K. They have slightly less of the other vitamins than raspberries, blackberries and strawberries but are still a good source!
There are several varieties of blueberries – the kind you commonly buy in the shops originally come from America and have white or translucent flesh. Their anthocyanins are concentrated in the skin only. On the other hand, bilberries - wild European ‘blueberries’ – are dark purple both on the outside and inside and pack a super dose of anthocyanins.
Good to know: all types of blueberries have traditionally been used in the treatment of diarrhoea, thanks to their astringent properties.
How much should you eat?
Berries are among the healthiest foods on the planet and contain more antioxidants than any other fruit so if you can, have some every day! A handful of fresh or thawed berries is enough – added to your morning cereal, smoothie or as a part of a dessert. Sadly, jam or any kind of heat-processed berry products don’t count. If you’re travelling and need something that’ll keep, freeze dried berries are also a good option.