As the days grow longer and the temperatures rise, fields across America are growing nutritional power pellets in the form of berries. Each summer, the deep red, blue and purple hues of ripening berries are celebrated in many communities. U-pick farms, produce stands, and restaurants burst with a variety of freshly picked berries and berry-inspired dishes for the few short weeks of their growing season. From blueberries, to blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and more, there is sure to be a variety to please your taste buds and provide you with a large serving of brain boosting health benefits too. Just remember to enjoy them straight from nature, without adding sugar or sugar-substitutes.
ANTIOXIDANTS & FREE RADICALS
The flavors and textures of berries vary from sweet and soft to crisp and tart. However, regardless of texture, color, or flavor, these beautiful berries each contain high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells in the body from damage by free radicals.1 The human body is exposed to free radicals through normal body processes like burning sugar for energy and the release of digestive enzymes to break down food.1 Free radicals also occur when the body breaks down certain medicines, as well as through exposure to X-rays, cigarette smoking, ozone, air pollutants, and industrial chemicals.1,2 When levels of free radicals rise then the lipids, proteins, and DNA in your body can become altered and trigger a number of human diseases.2 Removing free radicals from your body is important for reducing the risk of cancer, atherosclerosis, and inflammatory diseases including arthritis, lupus, and Alzheimer’s disease.2 Eating berries rich in antioxidants is a natural and tasty way to keep these free radicals in check.
BRAIN & BERRY RESEARCH
In one study, researchers reviewed a host of previous laboratory, human, and animal studies and concluded that eating berries is beneficial for the brain because berries change the way neurons in the brain communicate with one another. These changes help prevent inflammation that can lead to brain cell damage. Preventing brain inflammation and cell damage will help maintain motor control and function.3
WHICH BERRIES ARE BEST?
Research in older adults who were experiencing mild cognitive impairment found that the consumption of grapes and blueberries was associated with improved brain function.3 Studies have also shown that aging laboratory animals fed a diet rich in blueberries demonstrated improvements in learning capacity and motor skills, making them mentally equivalent to much younger animals.4 So, which berries are best? They all have excellent nutritional benefits, but Steven Pratt, MD, author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life, believes so much in the brain boosting benefits of blueberries that he calls them “brainberries”.4 The extraordinary health benefits of blueberries come from the phytonutrient and antioxidant, anthocyanin, that gives blueberries their beautiful color.5
ARE FROZEN BERRIES OK?
Ximena Jimenez, MS, RDN, LD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dietetics recommends aiming for three or more servings of berries each week.5 However, berry season is fleeting, so you need to enjoy their bounty when it arrives. Then, for the remaining months of the year, frozen berries offer an excellent option for continuing to include them in your diet. Berries are great straight from the freezer and blended in a smoothie. They are also tasty as a topping for oatmeal, yogurt, or salad or infused in a bottle of water.
Try adding berries, especially blueberries, to your summer menu and then keep on enjoying them the rest of the year too. Just remember that you dull their brain boosting benefits if you drown them in sugar, so enjoy them straight from the bush, vine, or cane. Hurry to your farmer’s market so you can enjoy your local berries, au natural, while they are in peak flavor.
Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD
- Antioxidants – Topic Overview. www.webmd.com/food-recipes/tc/antioxidants-topic-overview. Accessed June 24, 2017.
- Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, Chandra N. Free Radicals, antioxidants, and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2010; 4(8): 118-126.
- Miller MG, Shukitt-Hale B. Berry Fruit Enhances Beneficial Signaling in the Brain. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. January 2012; 60(23): 5709-5715.
- Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain. www.webmd.com/diet/features/eat-smart-healthier-brain. Accessed on June 24, 2017.
- Webb, D. Anthocyanins. Today’s Dietitian. March 2014; 16(3):20. www.todaysdietian.com/newarchives/030314p20.shtml. Accesses June 24, 2017.