Want to Cut Your Risk of 5 Major Killers? Eat Berries
Sometimes powerful medicine comes in sweet packages
When it comes to disease-fighting power, some of the best foods come in small packages. You probably already know that berries are packed with fiber and antioxidants. But recent research has underscored just how much they can lower the risk of some of our most-feared ailments, from cancer to dementia.
Read on for some berry good reasons to eat more of these tasty fruits.
Just one look at berries tells you they’re rich in antioxidants. Powerful antioxidants called flavonoids act as pigments that give different berries (and certain other fruits) their rich colors. Flavonoids such as those in blueberries “have been shown to inhibit the development of Alzheimer disease,” according to a study published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine in 2012.
Berries and other fruits high in antioxidants also help stave off memory loss associated with aging, according to a review published in the Journal of Nutrition. Berries, in fact, have the highest levels of antioxidants of any fresh fruits or vegetables, with a serving of blackberries, acai berries or wild blueberries surging ahead of even kale and spinach, according to 2010 Department of Agriculture data.
A recent long-term study of mental decline in more than 16,000 women aged 70 and over documented provided some of the clearest evidence that berries can help protect the brain. Women who had one serving or more of blueberries or two servings of strawberries every week had the slowest decline of memory and thinking skills, researchers found.
Some of the pigments in berries may also tamp down inflammation in the body, which is thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s. Animal studies show the brain absorbs anthocyanin, one anti-inflammatory pigment compound found in high quantities in blueberries and blackberries. Strawberries and many other berries also contain anthocyanin, just not as much.
High blood pressure and heart disease
Studies show that many different berries, including strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, and chokecherries, have a wide range of heart-healthy effects. Consuming two cups a day of strawberries, for instance, has been shown to help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol by 10 percent or more.
Berries may also help pull the plug on high blood pressure. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that a daily dose of dried blueberry power over eight weeks lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) of postmenopausal women with borderline or high blood pressure by about 7 points.
Also serve up berries if you’re looking to reduce your heart attack risk. A large population study published in 2013 tracked more than 93,000 women ages 25 to 42 for 18 years. The women who reported eating at least three servings of strawberries and/or blueberries every week were more than 30 percent less likely than other women to suffer a heart attack during the study. The researchers speculated that anthocyanins likely deserve much of the credit.
Sweet, sweet berries for better blood sugar? It sounds counterintuitive. But at Louisiana State University, scientists found that two blueberry smoothies a day helped boost insulin sensitivity in people who were obese and insulin-resistant, meaning they were at high risk of developing diabetes. The boost was more than 22 percent, about four times greater than another group that got smoothies with no blueberries.
Blueberries are rich in fiber and plant chemicals that help the body use insulin efficiently, an important step toward avoiding diabetes.
When it comes to cancer-fighting powers, blueberries are “the rock star fruit,” according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Since they’re so rich in cancer-fighting plant chemicals, adding them to your diet “may be a tasty way to lower cancer risk,” according to the AICR.
It’s too early to say whether a handful or even a bowl of berries every day will offer any guaranteed protection, but many researchers are enthusiastic about the possibility.
Berries in general are proven cancer fighters, according to a 2012 report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. In one animal study, scientists found a steady diet of freeze-dried berries inhibited cancer of the esophagus by 30 to 60 percent and cancer of the colon by up to 80 percent.
Certain compounds in berries, including an antioxidant called resveratrol, can actually kill cancer cells in a test tube. In addition, berries (particularly strawberries and raspberries) are rich in ellagic acid, which has been shown to help prevent cancers of the skin, bladder, lung, esophagus and breast in lab studies, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Regular consumption of berries and other fruits is likely to lower the risk of many cancers, according to the institute.
Evidence suggests berries may help protect against:
- Urinary tract infections (cranberries and blueberries)
- Cataracts (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and goji berries)
- Macular degeneration (blueberries, goji berries and bilberries)
Related: 10 Foods to Eat for Eye Health
Getting a berry boost
Adding berries to your daily menu can be a great way to move closer to the four to five servings of fruit recommended by the American Heart Association. You can eat them plain, mix them in salads or yogurt and thaw frozen berries to sprinkle on your cereal or oatmeal.
Smoothies are another way to get a good dose of berries. Diabetes specialist Daniel Nadeau, MD, recommends this breakfast smoothie, which, he reports, doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike:
Synergistic Wild Blueberry Smoothie (recipe by Daniel Nadeau)
- 2 cups wild blueberries
- 1 cup spinach
- 1 tablespoon raw cacao nibs
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 banana
- 1 scoop of vegan protein powder
- Stevia (to taste)
So consider making berries part of your regular diet. It may one of the sweetest things you ever do for your health.