Eating any kind of fruit is a healthy move. But if you really want to up your produce game, think berries. Why? “Most fruits and vegetables are known for one or two health benefits,” says Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D., director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University. “However, berries have a cornucopia of health-promoting bioactive phytochemicals that give them the ability to combat multiple diseases in one tiny little package.”
Here are just a few of the things these delicious, convenient fruits can do for your health:
More mental muscle. For years, health experts have observed that berry compounds, called anthocyanidins, help protect older folks from cognitive decline and dementia. Might they also do good things for younger people’s brains? To find out, researchers fed 20 to 30-year-olds a smoothie made of mixed berries or a placebo smoothie. Then they asked the volunteers to complete 6 hours-worth of mental challenges. The results: Throughout the 6-hour stretch, the berry drinkers displayed better brain power, outperforming the placebo group in both speed and accuracy.
Superior post exercise recovery. “The worst problem that an athlete experiences after prolonged, intense exercise like a marathon isn’t having run the marathon,” says Lila. “It’s that all that physical exertion can weaken their immune system, which is why marathon runners often come down with the flu a week later.” Could the inflammation-taming polyphenols in blueberries help? Yes, says Lila. Eating just 1 cup of blueberries daily for 2 weeks may quell the post-exercise inflammation that can sabotage an athlete’s immune response.
Improved gut health. Berries are a tasty way to work more digestion-friendly fiber into your diet (blackberries and raspberries pack a respective 8 and 10 grams per cup!). But that’s not the only reason berries make your gut happy. Their polyphenols are like food that helps support the good bacteria that live in your gut, says Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD, chair of the department of Food Science and Nutrition at Illinois Institute of Technology. When these beneficial bacteria flourish they produce powerful compounds called short chain fatty acids that help nourish the cells of the colon, reduce inflammation, and may even protect against colon cancer.
Balanced blood sugar. A high-carb meal doesn’t have to send your blood sugar soaring. Just add berries. In one recent study Burton and her team fed volunteers with prediabetes 1 of 3 different breakfasts: A bowl of cereal, cereal plus 1 cup of frozen red raspberries, or cereal and 2 cups of frozen raspberries. After the meal, they sampled the volunteers’ blood multiple times.
Their findings: All of the raspberry eaters had lower insulin levels and those who downed 2 cups of berries also had lower blood glucose. One reason may be raspberries’ ample fiber which helps slow glucose absorption. But that’s not all. Raspberries also contain unique compounds, called ellagitanins, believed to naturally help reduce blood sugar.
A healthier heart. “Strawberries have been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol over and over,” says Burton-Freeman. They also keep your blood vessels healthy, allowing blood to flow more easily so the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump it throughout your body. So it’s easy to see why regularly nibbling on berries is great for your ticker. But for the biggest bang eat them with a meal. You’ll rack up a cocktail of protective substances that help curb heart-damaging inflammation that normally occurs after mealtime.
In the end, whether you’re a fan of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries, the very best benefits come from eating lots of different kinds of berries. So mix things up! “Each berry contains a different phytochemical profile,” says Lila. “So eating a combination of berries guarantees that you’ll enjoy the full range of protection they can offer.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.