For the weekend: Enjoy the many health benefits of berries

Consumer Reports News: August 14, 2010 08:08 AM

Berries taste great, especially in the summer when they’re freshest. But they’re also developing a reputation as nutritional powerhouses with special health benefits.

Some of that is just hype, of course. Juice from the acai berry, for example, might be high in antioxidants but there’s little evidence it has the special weight-loss or other powers that are often touted in Internet ads.

Still, growing research does suggest that in addition to providing vitamins and minerals, berries contain a variety of other phytonutrients, or plant-based chemicals, that might keep us healthy in a number of ways.

Here’s a rundown on the evidence, plus some advice on how to choose and store berries.

Urinary-tract infections. Cranberry and blueberry juices can prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, which may help prevent UTIs. Look for drinks that list the juices as their first or second ingredient.

Memory. Blueberries and strawberries contain polyphenols, substances that might reduce inflammation in blood vessels in the brain. And a recent study found that a glass of blueberry juice with each meal every day for three months improved the memory of nine people who were experiencing mild memory loss. An unpublished study of 3,774 people in Chicago linked the regular consumption of strawberries to a slightly slower rate of cognitive decline in women as they got older.

Cancer. Animal and laboratory studies suggest that certain compounds in blueberries and strawberries might prevent the growth of breast and colon cancer cells.

Heart disease. Animal studies conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health suggest that a blueberry-enriched diet might offer some protection against heart attacks.

Shopping for berries 

  • Look for plump, firm fruit with a sweet aroma. Store them unwashed in an airtight container in your fridge. 
  • Opt for fresh or frozen berries instead of jams or jellies, which are often packed with added sugar. And the heat used to make them might reduce their vitamin C content. 
  • Splurge on the organic varieties to avoid harmful pesticides, especially for blueberries and strawberries. 
  • Remember that whole berries tend to have more nutrients and fiber than juices and juice drinks, as well as fewer calories and less sugar.
For more diet and nutrition tips, sign up for our mobile Health Alerts . And, we'd like to hear from you: What's your favorite berry variety and how do you prefer to eat them? In yogurt? On ice cream? Baked in a pie?
This article first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Consumer Reports On Health

Aaron Bailey

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