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Berries: Healthy eating

Kolasa, Kathy

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Q I didn’t grow up eating berries. They taste good, but is there a nutrition reason for eating them? — FJ, Greenville

A We are lucky to see a greater variety of berries — fresh, dried, canned and frozen — in our local stores than before. Children and people of all ages enjoy eating berries. Milary Lugo, an ECU dietetic student, wanted to tell you about the health reasons for eating them.

Fruits always have been recommended as part of a healthy diet. Our national food guide, MyPlate, suggests making half of our plate fruits and vegetables. I am often asked if juice counts as a fruit. For the best nutrition for your calories it really is best to focus on eating nutrient dense foods — those high in nutrients and low in calories — so choose whole fruits rather than juice.

Berries are an excellent choice because they are high in antioxidants — substances that prevent or delay cell damage. Studies have shown that the high antioxidant content in berries can offer benefits such as protection against heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers.

Berries have different types of polyphenols — the elements that occur naturally in plants that offer positive health benefits. There is evidence that a greater intake of foods high in polyphenols can help lower the risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. That is because polyphenols relax or open the blood vessels, allowing more blood to be delivered to the brain and heart.

Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are rich in anthocyanin — a plant pigment that gives off red and blue colors. Experts writing in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology last year explained that anthocyanins appear to have anti-inflammatory properties — meaning they reduce inflammation or swelling — and also help maintain the levels of blood sugar. Eating three or more servings per week of blueberries and strawberries can lower the risk of heart attacks by lowering blood pressure, and also lower the risk for diabetes.

Because the skin of fruits, specifically berries, is high in both anthocyanins and dietary fiber, eating them can help control blood sugar. According to the Centers for Disease Control, diabetes and heart disease are among the leading causes of death in the United States, so regularly adding berries in your diet can definitely help lower your risk for these diseases.

There are lots of ways to incorporate berries into our diet. Add them to your breakfast meal. Put them in oatmeal, cereal or yogurt, or on top of pancakes or waffles. Frozen berries can be used in smoothies that use yogurt or low-fat milk as the base. Add your favorite berry to salads or make a sauce for your warm meal. Another way of making sure we get our daily serving of berries is to add them to our water, a trick that can help those who need to drink more water.

Even though fresh fruits can be more expensive, some dollar stores offer frozen strawberries or mixed berries that can be added to the diet. Whole fruits are encouraged because they are high in fiber and do not contain added sugars like many juices do. MyPlate recommends that adults consume 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit a day. The Food Lists for Diabetes explains that one choice of fruits equals 60 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fat and 0 grams of protein. Adding berries to the diet can help replace high-calorie desserts with low-calorie and healthy fruits.

Here is a quick and healthy berry smoothie recipe. Combine 2 cups of frozen berries and 1 cup of non-fat Greek yogurt in a blender. If you like it a bit sweeter, add 1 tablespoon of honey or a sugar replacement product. Blend for 30 seconds or until everything is well mixed, pour into a glass and enjoy!

Smoothies are better than juicing since all the parts of the fruit are retained, giving healthy fiber and antioxidants. If you are buying a berry smoothie, make sure the calories are right for the meal you are replacing:  less than 200 for a snack; less than 300 for breakfast; less than 500 for lunch; and less than 1,200 for dinner.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian, nutritionalist and Ph.D., is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.


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