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The three biggest health benefits of berries

Consider berries your tiny secret weapons for combating cancer, diabetes, environmental toxins and even wrinkles. These nutritional powerhouses – including raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, boysenberries and blackberries – pack a big punch of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber for only about 80 calories per one cup serving.

Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont’s Fuqua Heart Center, shares the three biggest health benefits of these superfood fruits as well as ways to incorporate them into a healthy, balanced diet.

1. Berries fight free radicals

Our bodies create free radicals through normal processes like digestion. We are also exposed to free radicals through pollution and certain medications.

Free radicals are a problem because they can:

  • Damage the integrity and makeup of the body’s cells
  • Increase cancer risk
  • Make LDL (“bad”) cholesterol more likely to get trapped on the artery walls, which leads to blood vessel disease
  • Affect which substances are able to enter and leave the cell membranes

This is where antioxidants come to the rescue.

“Antioxidants scavenge for and rid our bodies of free radicals,” says Beal.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the best sources of antioxidants. Berries contain numerous free radical fighters, such as:

  • Phytochemicals
  • Anthocyanins
  • Vitamin C
  • Manganese
  • Polyphenols
  • Phenols
  • Flavonoids

2. Berries and blood sugar

While berries contain naturally-occurring sugar, several studies have found people who consume berries on a regular basis were able to reduce their blood glucose levels and increase their insulin sensitivity, both of which are key for preventing and controlling diabetes. Of course, if you are diabetic, talk to your physician before drastically altering your diet.

3. Beauty benefits of berries

A one-cup serving of berries can give you 25 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C, says Beal. Studies suggest vitamin C aids collagen formation (which helps the skin maintain elasticity), and maintains healthy capillaries and a healthy immune system.  Not to mention, eating berries from your local market is a lot cheaper than slathering on an expensive skin cream.  

The healthiest ways to eat berries

Beal recommends eating a variety of berries to maximize the benefits, as each fruit contains a different amount of each antioxidant.

“I recommend eating at least five fruits and vegetables daily. You should eat about a cup of fresh berries three days a week to get the maximum benefits,” she says. “Vary it up. Eat your colors. You want your diet to be colorful and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.”

In addition to eating a cup of fresh berries, you can also blend them into a smoothie, use them to sweeten your oatmeal, swap them for syrup on pancakes, make a breakfast cobbler or even use them in a salad. For more berry recipes and other healthy dishes, click here.

And remember, not all forms of berries are created equal.

“Stick to fresh or frozen berries without added syrup, sugar or other fillers,” she says. “Eat berries in their natural state.”

For more nutrition tips, click here

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