Berry, Berry Good for You

In season now, berries are not only delicious, but they are also jam-packed with healthy compounds that protect your longevity. Read on to find the health profile of some of your favorite berries! 

All the antioxidant benefits

Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cranberries: Beautiful to behold and delicious to the taste buds, berries also boast a number of spectacular health benefits.

Many studies show that the dark pigments in the red, blue, and purple skins of berries are from bioflavonoid compounds (such as anthocyanins) -- potent antioxidants that are crucial for maintaining health, preventing cancer, and protecting against toxins from the environment. In essence, these antioxidants mop up the free radical damage that causes aging. Berries rank high on the ORAC list, which measures antioxidant capacity -- with blueberries and blackberries leading the pack. Also, berries are more effective than aspirin at reducing inflammation, making them helpful for arthritis. For more information about berries, watch this video.

While the benefits of berries often overlap, here are some specifics about each:

Blueberries: Brainy berries

Blueberries have been a staple of Native American diets for centuries, and some northeast Native American tribes used the blueberry plant as medicine. The leaves of the plant were used to make a tea that was thought beneficial for the blood and the juice of blueberries was used to treat coughs.

Now we know that the blueberry is among the fruits with the highest level of antioxidant activity, helping to reduce the risk of certain cancers and bringing anti-aging benefits. Blueberries have neuroprotective properties that can delay the onset of aging and age-related memory loss by shielding brain cells from damage by chemicals, plaque, or trauma; in a USDA Human Nutrition Research Center lab, neuroscientists discovered that feeding blueberries to laboratory rats slowed age-related loss in their mental capacity. Blueberries have also been shown to lower blood cholesterol and lipid levels.


Strawberries: Good for your heart

In Chinese medicine, red foods like strawberries are thought to be supportive of the heart and small intestine network. Indeed, the strawberry's content of folate, fiber, high antioxidants (such as vitamin C), and phytochemicals are an ideal combination for heart health. When added to a cholesterol-lowering diet, it was found that the antioxidants in strawberries helped lower coronary heart disease risk.

Like blueberries, evidence supports that antioxidant-filled strawberries are important for neurological function. And just one serving of strawberries -- about 8 strawberries -- provides more vitamin C than an orange. Add strawberries to a bowl of warm whole oats for all the heart-healthy benefits. You could also try pairing any of the berries from this article with Dr. Mao's beautiful hot herbal cereal to start the day on with optimal health and energy.


Blackberries: Full of fiber

Blackberries have been popular in Europe for over 2,000 years, used for eating, medicinal purposes, and as hedges to keep out intruders. Often termed "brambles", blackberries and raspberries are members of the Rosaceae family and closely related to the strawberry. Brambles have a characteristic "aggregate fruit" structure, which means they are formed by the aggregation of several smaller fruits. It is this structure that is responsible for the blackberry and raspberry's nutritional value, because it increases the proportion of dietary fiber. In fact, both the blackberry (7.4 grams of fiber per serving) and the raspberry (8 grams of fiber per serving) are exceptional sources of fiber. What is so beneficial about fiber? Fiber helps dispel gastrointestinal disorders, lowers cholesterol levels, reduces risk of colon cancer, and supports weight loss.


Raspberries: All-around antioxidant activity

Coming in red, black, purple and yellow, colorful raspberries contain significant amounts of the anthocyanin pigments that potentially protect against several human diseases. Preliminary research suggests that eating raspberries regularly can protect from inflammation and pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies, age-related cognitive decline, and the eyesight degeneration that comes with aging. Nutritionally, a cup of raspberries is equal to about 50% of your daily value for vitamin C, about 60% daily value for manganese, and 30% of your daily dietary fiber.

The black raspberry -- not to be confused with the blackberry -- is indigenous only to North America, and in spite of its health benefits, takes a back seat to the more popular red raspberry. Black raspberry extracts have been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth. Yellow raspberries, owing to their pale color, are lower in anthocyanins, and therefore not as beneficial.

While cranberries get all the credit for improving bladder health, raspberries also contain bioflavonoids that are beneficial to the bladder. Red raspberry tea is thought to help strengthen uterine tissue. And black raspberry is a natural astringent that promotes bladder health.


Cranberries: Bladder benefits

Cranberry harvesting generally occurs in the autumn, so for now you may have to settle for the frozen kind. You can also drink cranberry juice, although some are made better than others -- watch out for high amounts of sugar. Today, cranberry juice is widely used to prevent bladder infections. The cranberry contains a substance that prevents bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, causing them to be washed out when you urinate. Cranberry juice is thought to work best when consumed regularly, which seems to reduce the amount of recurrent bladder infections in those prone to develop them.

Cranberries are also a good source of vitamin A and C: They, too, contain antioxidants that help protect you from cancer, heart disease, and stroke. They also have a lot of fiber, which maintains good digestion and helps lowers cholesterol.

Choose organic berries whenever possible to protect yourself from the high pesticides in non-organically grown berries.

I hope this article helps you get all the berry benefits! I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

--Dr. Mao

This blog is meant to educate, but it should not be used as a substitute for personal medical advice. The reader should consult his or her physician or clinician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field is ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.

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