There is nothing tastier than tucking into a bowl of fresh, colourful and juicy berries. As the flavours burst in your mouth and tickle your tastebuds, you can almost feel the goodness exploding in your mouth and trickling down your throat. But what exactly is in a berry that makes it so healthy?
Who would have thought that the common old mulberry tree found in many a backyard – and considered a nuisance because of the stains the fruit leaves on clothes or on the ground – is actually supplying us with a food that is a powerhouse of nutrients with amazing health benefits. The fact is, the more a fruit or vegetable stains your fingers, the higher its content of anthocyanins, the polyphenols responsible for giving it its strong colouring and the major contributors to the antioxidant activity of all berries. Mulberries, blueberries, strawberries and all other berries have an abundance of these phytochemicals.
Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in red grapes and red wine and in mulberries… a fact that is not well-publicised. Resveratrol has several positive health benefits including the lowering of cholesterol, the prevention of cancer, blood clots, diabetes and aiding in weight loss.
Like all berries, mulberries are also an excellent source of vitamin B, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and iron and just a handful of most berry types can help you meet your daily fibre requirement. Sadly, in the past, very little research has ever been done on mulberries. However that is all changing with extensive research now being done not only on the fruit but also on mulberry leaf extract as a treatment option for diabetes. (Unfortunately the mulberry tree has been categorised as an invasive alien in South Africa and even though it may only be a problem in some areas such as KZN, you probably won’t be able to buy a mulberry tree at any nursery anywhere in the country. So do look after what you have!)
Antioxidants attract and neutralise highly reactive free radicals that could otherwise damage body cells in ways that initiate cancer development, heart disease and age-related eye damage.
Blueberries on the other hand have been the subject of many a study and their health benefits, although probably very similar to mulberries, are well documented. According to the US Department of Agriculture, blueberries take first prize in the berry category when it comes to antioxidant activity per serving. Blueberries are touted as a super-food when it comes to anti-ageing, cancer prevention, and heart and vision health.
When in season, strawberries are usually more readily available than other berries. Ideally look for organic, firm, bright, juicy, fragrant berries with fresh green caps. If you remove the caps you tear cells in the berries, activating an enzyme called ascorbic acid oxidase that destroys vitamin C. If the berries are not organic, wash them thoroughly as strawberries are one of the most pesticide-sprayed fruit crops. Do not hull them before washing as this may reduce the nutritional value of the strawberry. And here’s a little trick that will keep organic strawberries from deteriorating too soon: Add 1⁄2 cup of white or brown vinegar to the bowl of water you wash them in – caps on of course. Dry them well on a dish cloth and when completely dry store in the fridge. This prevents mould from growing and extends their life although they still won’t last as long as some commercially grown strawberries that last far longer because they have been treated with preservatives and pesticides.
An article published online on April 26, 2012 in the Annals of Neurology reports a protective effect for diets containing high amounts of blueberries and strawberries against cognitive decline in older women. In this study cognitive function was tested every two years in 16 010 participants who were over the age of 70 between 1995 and 2001. Consuming a relatively high amount of blueberries or strawberries was associated with a slower decline in cognitive function test scores compared to women whose intake was lower, resulting in a delay in cognitive aging of up to 2.5 years. Although the study was done on women it surely applies to men too.
The healing health benefits of raw fruits and vegetables should never be underestimated and incorporating a wide variety of raw berries into your diet will ensure optimal health.
Editor's note: If you want to start growing your own berries, this article is for you: Grow your Own
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