5 Compelling Reasons to Eat Berries, Such as for Heart Health
5 Compelling Reasons to Eat Berries, Such as for Heart Health
There are many good reasons to eat berries. Rightly considered one of nature’s genuine superfoods, these tasty, fleshy fruits are absolutely packed with nutrition, can be purchased fresh or frozen, and can be deployed in a staggering number of dishes.
There is more research to support including berries in your diet than there is for just about any other food. Believe it or not, they’ve even been demonstrated to offer protection against cancer and heart disease.
With this in mind, when was the last time you ate a handful of berries? Did you scatter berries on your porridge this morning or have you forgotten the last time you indulged in foods such as goji berries, gooseberries, blueberries and raspberries?
Whatever the case may be, in this article you'll learn why berries should be a dietary staple. We’ll talk about what’s in berries that makes them so healthful, as well as conditions they might help with and ways you can use them. Let’s dive in.
What Makes Berries Healthy?
The million dollar question: what makes berries so healthy?
Well, for starters, they have an incredible nutritional profile, generally being high in vitamins A, C, E and K; minerals manganese and copper; prebiotic fibre; and special antioxidants known as polyphenols.
In fact, on a per serving basis, berry fruits are some of the richest sources of polyphenols on Earth, with the most polyphenol-rich berries including black chokeberry, black elderberry, blackberry and blueberry.
The afore-linked article on polyphenols is a good place to bone up on the topic, but in essence they are powerful compounds found mostly in plants, and which offer protection from ultraviolet radiation and harmful pathogens.
And just as they protect plants, they can also protect us.
Polyphenols are subdivided into flavonoids, stilbenes (like resveratrol), lignans and phenolic acids, and they are one of our best defences against harmful free radicals.
Berries also have a lower sugar content than many fruits, which make them advisable for diabetics. (More on that later.)
They are also quite low in calories. Which brings us nicely on to…
1. To lose weight, improve insulin sensitivity
Berries are a dieter’s best friend – a half cup of blueberries contains just 42 calories – and it couldn’t be easier to incorporate them in your diet.
Whether you buy fresh or frozen, they are perfect for blending in a healthy smoothie or sprinkling liberally over a Greek yogurt or salad.
It’s not just the low calorie count that makes berries particularly helpful for weight loss. It also stems from their high fibre content.
You see, the body cannot break this fibre down, so the net effect is that the rate of digestion is slowed, helping to keep you fuller for longer.
Research backs up the hypothesis that berries are advantageous for weight loss. Take the 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal, for example.
It looked at whether the intake of flavonoid subclasses correlated with weight loss over time, and followed its subjects over a period of 24 years.
The result? “Among fruits, an increased intake of blueberries, apples, pears, prunes, strawberries, and grapes was inversely associated with weight gain.”
Sadly, some known flavonoid-rich food sources – like blackberries and raspberries – were not included in the study. But you’ve got to assume they’d have a similar effect.
Can you eat berries on a low-carb diet? Absolutely. But it does depend on how low-carb you want to go.
Berries have attracted interest in the ketogenic community because some, like raspberry, blackberry and strawberry, are permissible in modest quantities.
Blueberries contain a little more carbs, so they’re generally off the menu. But unless you’re going full keto, you can eat most berries liberally due to their comparatively low carbohydrate content.
OK, so how can berries be good for diabetes? Well, there was a study a few years ago which found that polyphenols in strawberries and cranberries improved insulin sensitivity for people with pre-diabetes.
Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that GlucoPhenol – a blend of cranberry and strawberry extracts – provoked notable improvements in insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic, insulin-resistant individuals.
Specifically, the berry blend increased insulin signalling and the transportation of glucose into skeletal muscle.
Hélène Jacques, PhD, who led the study, remarked that the results indicated that “polyphenols may delay or even halt the progression of type 2 diabetes.”
Sugar is the enemy for diabetics, and while berries contain fructose, this natural sugar doesn’t need insulin to be metabolised. As such, berries are ideal for a diabetic diet.
2. To reduce blood pressure, improve heart health
Fibre and antioxidants are considered cornerstone nutrients for the heart. So it’s really no surprise that berries are recommended for those keen to preserve the health of their most important organ.
In studies, berries have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, lower oxidative stress (thereby cutting risk of heart disease) and improve arterial function.
In a study published in 2013 but conducted over an 18-year-period, women who ate the fewest blueberries and strawberries were shown to be at an elevated risk of heart attack.
By comparison, women who ate the most were 34% less likely to suffer from one as those who ate the least.
This particular study revealed a threshold effect: in other words, you have to eat a minimum amount to receive the cardiovascular benefits. That threshold appears to be three or more 1/2 cup servings every week.
A word of warning, though: people who use blood-thinners like warfarin should consult with their doctor prior to upping their consumption of blueberries: the high vitamin K content can affect the ability of blood to clot.
3. To tackle gout
Gout is a condition caused by an excess of uric acid in the blood, which gives rise to symptoms such as stiff, painful joints. It is known particularly to afflict the hands, wrists, knees, ankles and elbows.
One of the great things about berries is that they reduce uric acid levels in the body, thereby alleviating gout symptoms and improving general health.
This is due to the high vitamin C content as well as the assorted antioxidants and phenolic compounds therein.
Extracts of barberry and raspberry have been shown to exert anti-inflammatory effects while in animal models, cherry and mulberry extracts have proven effective at treating arthritis inflammation.
Should berries be considered a lone treatment for gout or any other form of arthritis? No. But they can be useful if used alongside other natural arthritis remedies.
4. To pass on the benefits (berries during pregnancy)
Not for nothing are berries regarded as a must-eat food during pregnancy. It’s largely down to the vitamin C, fibre, potassium and folate (vitamin B9) content, all of which are important nutrients to pass on to your offspring.
Folate is especially crucial as it can help to prevent birth defects of the baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Berries also contain plenty of water, so they are a great hydration aid. During pregnancy, there is a greater hydration need, as water is required to form amniotic fluid, generate additional blood volume, build new tissue, transport nutrients, ease indigestion and eliminate toxins.
Funnily enough, many pregnant women report experiencing berry cravings. We’d like to say this shows the body is asking for what it needs; but ice cream and chocolate cravings are also all too common!
5. To improve skin health and hair growth
Due largely to their antioxidant content, berries are considered one of the best foods to eat to improve complexion.
This makes perfect sense when you consider that free radicals are one of the worst offenders in the ageing process and consequent skin damage.
Collagen is another famously skin-supportive nutrient, and because it depends on vitamin C, berries in turn support the production of collagen.
Thus, their effect on skin health is twofold. Actually threefold when you factor in hydration.
Berries have a long history of traditional use, and Native Americans in particular used berries for wounds due to their anti-microbial properties.
Studies performed by North Carolina State University show that berry compounds can help speed up the process of wound healing.
Because hair follicles are just as vulnerable to damage from free radicals, berries are also considered beneficial for hair: not only to prevent it from becoming brittle and breaking but also promoting hair growth.
What’s more, it’s believed berries promote blood circulation on the scalp.
Hopefully we have demonstrated that berries are incredibly healthful. And here’s another thing: they’re also extremely adaptable.
Think about it: you can have berry compote, berry coulis, berry mousse or just scatter a handful of your favourite berries over yogurts, granolas or salads. You can also blend berries into your favourite fruit or vegetable juice, smoothie or protein shake to up the antioxidant content. Oh, and there’s berry cheesecake, muffin, pancakes and pie, providing you can keep the sugar low – or not if you’re after a treat.
There are even berry supplements. Our favourite is Immun7 Premium, a unique polyphenol concentrate made from 7 superfruits - black cherries, black grapes, redcurrants, blackcurrants, blackberries, plum and elderberries
A true superfood, it’s about time we started giving berries the appreciation they deserve. Tell your friends!
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.