Berries are high in heart-healthy antioxidants, but do you know which ones are best?
Fresh berries are some of the most powerful — and delicious — disease-fighting foods available. That’s because they are rich in antioxidants that fight cell damage in your body.
The terms “antioxidants” and “free radicals” are ones you’ve probably read or heard about, but if you don’t quite understand them, you’re not alone. Simply put: free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good. You can research to get a more-extensive explanation of body physiology and chemistry and how free radicals are formed, but basically, if your body’s free-radical production becomes excessive or if antioxidants are unavailable, damage can occur. Of concern to us older adults is that free radical damage accumulates with age.
How can we protect against the damage caused by these free radicals? By eating foods that have the antioxidants that help protect the body against the destructive effects of free radicals. And that’s where berries like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries come in.
Scientists have developed the ORAC test to measure the effect antioxidants have on free radicals. Studies using the ORAC test suggest that consuming fruits and vegetables with a high ORAC value may slow the aging process in both the body and brain.
How much should you be getting? Here’s the math: You get an average of 600 to 800 ORAC units every time you eat a serving of fresh or freshly cooked fruits and vegetables. It’s believed that 2,000 to 5,000 units per day may be needed to ward off diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer.
“Antioxidants work everywhere in the body, including the heart,” writes Johns Hopkins nutritionist Joshua Nachman, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N. “They’re best consumed in real, whole foods — not supplements — especially colorful fruits and vegetables.”
Here are our berry-good suggestions:
- Blueberries. Although they contain more sugar than other berries (15 grams per cup), blueberries contain many different types of phytonutrients — natural chemicals that fight diseases.
Diet Tip: Eat a handful as a snack or put them into a smoothie. When you serve cheese as an appetizer before dinner, add a few blueberries to the platter — they add color as well as healthful benefits!
- Blackberries. They are among the berries highest in antioxidants and fiber, but people often overlook them.
Diet Tip: Add them to plain Greek-style yogurt instead of buying the high-in-sugar fruit-added yogurts that are so popular.
- Strawberries. One of the most popular fruits, but eating strawberries has a downside. According to Nachman, “strawberries rank No. 4 on the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of foods high in pesticides.” Washing them doesn’t help as the strawberries absorb the bad stuff, so you should only eat ones that have been organically grown.
Diet Tip: Try slicing them onto green salads, breakfast cereal and coconut ice cream.
- Raspberries. This berry gets high marks for being low in sugar (5 grams per cup).
Diet Tip: Add a handful to your low-sugar breakfast cereal or plain yogurt.
One note of caution: Eat berries in moderation as they contain high amounts of sugar. Add other free-radical-busting foods — like walnuts, broccoli, spinach, kale and sweet potatoes — to your daily diet.