By Dr. Joseph Mercola
with Rachael Droege
Berries are among the best fruits on the planet. Not only do they taste great, but they are densely packed with a variety of potent phytochemicals that can do wonders to normalize and improve health. They are also high in fiber and relatively low in sugar, so they won’t stimulate severe insulin swings if eaten in moderation.
The best way to eat berries is in their raw, natural state, as heating and freezing can damage antioxidants. However, some antioxidants will remain even after heating or freezing.
Different types of berries do contain varying levels of nutrients, and can therefore be more beneficial for certain types of illness. You can find out the details of some of the most common and most nutritious berries--blueberries, cranberries, strawberries and raspberries--below.
Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Center (HNRCA) have ranked blueberries #1 in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables. They contain powerful phytochemicals, such as anthocyanin, which is the pigment that gives blueberries their color.
Blueberries are associated with numerous health benefits including protection against urinary-tract infections, cancer, age-related health conditions and brain damage from strokes. They may also reduce the build-up of so-called "bad" cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease and stroke.
The European blueberry, bilberry, is also known to prevent and even reverse the most common cause of blindness, macular degeneration.
Additionally, blueberries contain vitamins A and C, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium and magnesium, and are high in fiber and low in calories.
Along with their well-known usefulness in treating urinary-tract infections, cranberries also protect against cancer, stroke and heart disease.
Cranberries are rich in polyphenols, a potent antioxidant, and researchers have found that they may inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells and reduce the risk of gum disease and stomach ulcers. They have also been found to decrease levels of total cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol in animals.
Many people associate cranberries with store-bought cranberry juice. I would not use this as your source of cranberries, however, as the juice is high in sugar that will weaken your immune system and overall health. You can find pure cranberry juice, but it tends to be expensive and doesn’t taste too great.
To achieve the maximum health benefits, it’s best to eat whole, raw cranberries. They taste especially great when added to vegetable juice.
Strawberries came in second to blueberries in the USDA’s analysis of antioxidant capacity of 40 fruits and vegetables. They are also rich in dietary fiber and manganese, and contain more vitamin C than any other berry (more than any other berry).
Among strawberries’ antioxidants are anthocynanins and ellagic acid, a phytochemical that has been shown to fight carcinogens. Antioxidant compounds found in strawberries may also prevent the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and thereby help fight the development of heart disease.
Strawberries are also high in folic acid, dietary fiber and potassium.
Raspberries are rich in anthocyanins and cancer-fighting phytochemicals such as ellagic, coumaric and ferulic acid. They also contain calcium, vitamins such as A, C, E, fiber and folic acid.
Some of the fiber in raspberries is soluble fiber in the form of pectin, which lowers cholesterol. Raspberries have also been found to protect against esophageal cancer and other cancers.
Please note that fruit juices should be avoided as they contain a large amount of fructose. Each glass of juice, even those with no sugar added, has more sugar than a glass of soda. Although the sugar it contains is fructose, it will still negatively affect your immune system.
As with all fruits, I do recommend that you eat berries in moderation. If you eat too many berries the carbohydrate will increase your insulin levels. This is partially compensated for by the fiber in the whole fruit, which helps delay the absorption of sugar.
Eating small amounts of whole fruits will not provide tremendous amounts of the natural sugar fructose, however, and therefore should not be a problem for most people.
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