“On average, people who eat more berries seem to live a little bit longer”, that’s according to Eric Rimm, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School. He suggested eating a cup of fresh berries a day when they’re in season to reap the health benefits.
So let’s look at some of the many health benefits of berries.
- They promote a healthy gut;
- Eating berries especially blueberries (a rich source of anthocyanins), three times a week may help lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
- Berries consumption can lower the risk of heart attacks, they are heart healthy too; a study of more than 90,000 women found that people who ate berries (especially blueberries and strawberries) more than three times a week vs. once a month or less, over an 18-year period, had a 34 percent lower risk of heart attack.
- Berries consumption can boost learning and memory; blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are powerful foods for learning and memory. Blueberries have compounds that help generate new nerve cells in the brain and increase their communication. According to a 20-year Harvard study of women aged 70 and older, eating blueberries at least once a week or strawberries at least twice a week may delay cognitive aging by up to two-and-a-half years.
- Berries can help people keep weight off (blueberries and strawberries); in a study that followed people for up to 24 years, it was found that people who regularly ate foods high in anthocyanins (mostly blueberries and strawberries) gained less weight than those who ate them infrequently.
Berries, whether fresh or frozen, are among the top sources of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting nutrients, and they can help reduce the risk of many age-related conditions, according to health experts. They’re low in calories and they contain nutrients that help feed healthy gut bacteria.
Berries, especially strawberry, raspberry & blackberry (the Rosaceae family) and blueberry, cranberry (the Ericaceae family), belong to the best dietary sources of bioactive compounds (BAC). BAC are abundant especially in highly-coloured berries. Berries have a delicious taste and flavour, especially when they are in season; they are of great interest for nutritionists and food technologists due to the antioxidant properties of BAC and the opportunity to use them as functional foods ingredients. The bioactive compounds in berries contain mainly phenolic compounds (phenolic acids, flavonoids, such as anthocyanins and flavonols, and tannins) and ascorbic acid. These compounds, either individually or combined, are responsible for the various health benefits of berries, such as prevention of inflammation disorders, cardiovascular diseases, or protective effects to lower the risk of various cancers.
Bioactive compounds are present in small quantities in foods, mainly in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and provide health benefits beyond the basic nutritional value (Gökmen, 2016). Bioactive compounds are molecules that can present therapeutic potential with influence on energy intake, while reducing pro-inflammatory state, oxidative stress, and metabolic disorders (Siriwardhana et al., 2013). Epidemiological studies indicate that high consumption of foods rich in bioactive compounds with antioxidant activity, including vitamins, phytochemicals, and mainly phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids and carotenoids, has a positive effect on human health and could diminish the risk of numerous diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cataracts, and age-related functional decadence (Hassimotto, Genovese, & Lajolo, 2009; Siriwardhana et al., 2013)
Anthocyanins are polyphenols which are found in plants as red pigments. Anthocyanins are responsible for the blue, purple, red, and intermediate colors of many flowers, leaves, vegetables, and fruits. Nearly one thousand anthocyanins, and more than 15 anthocyanidins, exist in the vegetal kingdom. From various studies, it is found that some plants or their parts containing anthocyanins have anticancer property and their analogues may be helpful in synthesizing newer effective anticancer agents in future.
The chemical composition of berries
Berries, in general, are rich in sugars (glucose, fructose), but low in calories. They contain only small amounts of fat, but a high content of dietary fibre (cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin); organic acids, such as citric acid, malic acid, tartaric, oxalic and fumaric acid; certain minerals in trace amounts (i.e., 100 g of edible portion of raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries could provide more than 50% of Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for manganese; some vitamins (vitamin c and vitamin B9); and phytochemicals, such as phenolic compounds. These compounds could be a good option for the food industry to use as functional foods ingredients.
It is important to note that the chemical composition and content of BAC in berries is variable depending on the cultivar and variety, growing location, and environmental conditions, plant nutrition, ripeness stage, and time of harvest, as well as subsequent storage conditions or processing methods.
Regular consumption of berries has been associated with a reduction in the risk of some chronic diseases. Incorporation of individual or blended berry extracts into novel food or drink products, such as no added sugar fruit drinks, cereal bars, wholegrain crackers, breads and cakes, smoothies, breakfast granola with yoghurts and chia seeds for example, offers a potential avenue of functional food development that could target consumers (healthy or some health conditions).