Nature has gifted us a huge variety of delicious berries. Each berry has a different taste, flavour, mouth-feel, aroma and appearance. Besides this, different berries provide different health benefits. Therefore, including a variety of berries in your daily diet is a great way to include a huge number of nutrients. Individuals who consume berries regularly are at a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol levels, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Health Benefits of Berries
Here are the health benefits of different berries:
Nutritional Benefits of Berries
Berries are packed with a number of antioxidants, phytochemicals, flavonoids and other health promoting compounds. Such a composition makes it very nutritious and thus, they can fight against a number of diseases. Each berry provides a different health benefit; therefore, it is important to consume a mixture of berries. Let’s have a detailed look at what makes berries so nutritious:
Abundant in Phytochemicals
The therapeutic role of berries is attributed to its high phytochemical content. Among all the fruits, berries contain the highest amount of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals present in berries are best known for their ability to act as antioxidants, but their other health-promoting properties extend beyond anti-oxidation such as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Phytochemicals present in berries regulate the following activities:
- Modulate nuclear receptors
- Gene expression
- Signalling pathways
- Metabolizing enzymes
- Repair oxidative damage caused to the DNA
On digestion, berry phenolic compounds are converted by gut flora (microorganisms present in the digestive tract that provide benefits to the body). Then these compounds get accumulated in the target tissues and provide various health advantages. Phytochemicals present in berries include:
Among these, the most studied phytochemical is ‘Anthocyanins’. It is not just responsible for the beautiful color that it provides, but it also provides various health benefits. Darker the color of the berry, greater is the concentration of Anthocyanin in that particular berry.
Filled with Antioxidants
Berries are a huge source of antioxidants and they protect each cell of the body against oxidative damage. A combination of berries such as blueberry, bilberry, cranberry, raspberry and strawberry have greater antioxidant potential as compared to a single type of berry. Thus, an individual can benefit more if he/she eats a bowl of different berries rather than having a bowl of same kind of berry. The functions of antioxidants present in berries include:
- Protection against cardiovascular disorders
- Lowers the advancing of age-induced oxidative stress
- Modulates the inflammatory responses and lowers the overall inflammation
- Protects against degenerative diseases
- Protects DNA against oxidative damage
- Improves cognitive function
In addition to this, the antioxidant activity of each berry is different. Antioxidant activity is greatly influenced by presence of phenolic constituents such as anthocyanins, ellagitannins and proanthocyanidins in the berry.
For example – the concentration of anthocyanins in blackberry is greater than strawberry. Therefore, the anti-oxidative capacity coming from phenolic compounds is greater in blackberry. One interesting research observed that drinking different berry juices improves the level of plasma antioxidants. Thus, antioxidants from various berry juices are absorbed and are active as antioxidants in the body.
Rich Source of Ascorbic Acid
Berries are extremely rich source of ascorbic acid, a potent antioxidant. A research compared the ascorbic acid content of red currants, black currants and Indian gooseberry. It was found that among all the types of currants, black currant had the highest ascorbic acid content as compared to red currants and white currants. Besides this, the ascorbic acid content of black currant was even higher than Indian gooseberries.
The level of ascorbic acid present in goji berries is also high. Due to this, the free radical scavenging capacity of goji berry is high. The presence of ascorbic acid in goji berry protects the liver against carbon tetrachloride-induced acute liver injury.
Research has found that dried berries have lesser ascorbic acid content as compared to fresh berries. Enzymatic and non-enzymatic degradative reactions take place during processing of berries, this leads to the loss of moisture and ascorbic acid present in it. In addition to this, it has been observed that whole berries have greater ascorbic acid content as compared to berry juice.
Therapeutic Benefits of Berries
Berries are highly valued in clinical setting and their role as a therapeutic agent is amazing. They not only provide a delicious taste, but they also contain medicinal properties that protect against various diseases. Let’s throw some light on how these sweet medicines work:
Lowers Cholesterol & Triglyceride Levels
Many researchers claim that berries are very efficient in lowering high levels of total and bad cholesterol as well as triglyceride. A research published in 2008 showed that consuming berry for 2 months increased the level of HDL – high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (healthy or good cholesterol). Such an increase in the level of HDL cholesterol provides protection to the heart.
Another research observed the cholesterol lowering effect of Indian gooseberry, which is also known as ‘Amla’. Regular consumption of Amla reduced the level of LDL – low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (unhealthy) and total cholesterol. The bioactive compounds present in Amla reduce the activity of enzyme that participates in cholesterol formation. Thus, if the activity of this enzyme is limited, less cholesterol will be formed in the body. In addition to this, Amla also accelerates the excretion of bile acid and lowers its re-absorption.
Another berry that helps in lowering high cholesterol level is black raspberry. Scientific studies have found that black raspberries have antihyperlipidemic effect. It is also used as an effective alternative for cholesterol lowering drugs. It reduces the synthesis of cholesterol and thus, it is used as an effective therapeutic agent in the treatment of high cholesterol level.
Studies have also observed excellent bile acid binding properties of strawberry, cranberry and blueberry. Cholesterol is required for the synthesis of bile acid. These berries have an amazing potential to bind and throw bile acid out of the body. Thus, more cholesterol will be used for the production of bile acid and less will be stored in the body. Such a continuous cycle helps to lower the cholesterol level. Research further found that the bile acid binding capacity of blueberry is greater than strawberry and cranberry.
Type-2 Diabetes Mellitus
Regular consumption of fruits and vegetables play a beneficial role in the management of high plasma glucose levels. Among all fruits, research has recently found that berries possess a greater hypoglycemic effect and is beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus. A recent study published in 2014 showed that a higher intake of berries significantly reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus by 35%.
Berries play an important role on glucose metabolism (a process in which carbohydrates are used as a source of energy or source in the body) and body weight regulation. Oxidative stress and inflammation may lead to beta cell (that produces insulin) dysfunction. The presence of polyphenols in berries reduces oxidative stress and inflammation and thus, protects beta cell.
Furthermore, berries have low caloric content and high amount of moisture and dietary fiber. Such a composition increases satiety (feeling of fullness) and delays hunger pangs and over-eating. In such a way, berries help in body weight regulation.
It has been found that consuming ‘goji berries’ reduces insulin resistance and improves insulin sensitivity. These berries significantly increase glucose transporter 4 (GLUT4) in the skeletal muscles. Such an increase in the insulin sensitivity increases the uptake of glucose by cells and muscles. Such an uptake helps in the management of plasma glucose level.
Researchers have observed that individuals who consume less fruits, particularly berries are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases.
A very interesting study published in 2009 observed the glycemic effect of different berries such as bilberries, cranberry and strawberry. These berries prevented a sudden spike in the plasma glucose levels. Bioactive compounds present in these berries inhibited the action of digestive enzyme that converts carbohydrates to simple sugar during the process of digestion. Such an inhibition prevented a rise in the postprandial plasma glucose level and delayed the absorption of glucose from the gastrointestinal tract. Such an effect was attributed to the high Anthocyanin content of the berries. As bilberries and cranberry are darker in color, their Anthocyanin content was higher as compared to strawberry. Therefore, bilberry and cranberry were more effective in managing the plasma glucose levels as compared to strawberry.
Phytochemicals are health-promoting compounds that are obtained from plant foods. Blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries and raspberries contain huge amount of phenolic phytochemicals. These phytochemicals prevent the formation of advanced glycation end products and thus, delay the onset of diabetic complications such as:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Neuropathy (damage to nerves)
- Nephropathy (damage to kidney)
- Retinopathy (damage to eyes)
Therefore, consuming berries is a great way to manage diabetes mellitus and to keep its complications at bay.
Consumption of berries and their contribution for improving heart health is a growing area of interest. Vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, antioxidant capacity, anthocyanins and dietary fiber present in berries are linked to improved cardiovascular health. LDL cholesterol plays a vital role in atherosclerotic plaque formation. A regular consumption of berries reduces LDL – low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and thus, reduces the risk of atherosclerosis.
Consumption of mixed berries such as strawberries, bilberries and lingonberries increase the concentration of polyphenols and vitamin C in the blood and reduces blood pressure, increases HDL cholesterol (healthy or good cholesterol) and inhibits platelet aggregation. All the above factors reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and thus protect the heart.
Data reported from a study showed that individuals who consume berries regularly are at a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease as compared to individuals who do not consume berries at all. Two berries have been identified to reduce the risk of inflammation and heart disease, these include- blueberries and strawberries.
Oxidative damage increases the risk of various diseases and disorders such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis. In order to reduce the risk of many diseases, it is very important to combat oxidative stress. To protect the body against the harmful effects of oxidative stress, it is important to eat foods that are rich in antioxidants.
Research has found that consuming whole berry or berry juice has a beneficial effect on oxidative stress. Berries contain abundance of antioxidants. These antioxidants scavenge the harmful free radicals, reduce the markers of oxidative stress, and keeps oxidative damage at bay. In addition to this, the plasma antioxidant level increases after the consumption of berries.
A regular consumption of berries help to reduce oxidative damage and such an effect is attributed to the presence of anthocyanins in it. A scientific study observed that anthocyanins present in elderberry significantly lowered the toxicity caused by chemical inducers of oxidative stress.
Anthocyanins present in blackberry have shown to protect against perioxynitrite – induced oxidative damage to human cells (perioxynitrite is a strong oxidative agent). Mulberry also exhibits strong anti-oxidative and antiatherogenic properties by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL – low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and prevents the onset of heart disease. Blueberries and cranberries inhibit the pro-inflammatory factors and thus, reduce the level of inflammation and oxidative stress.
Berries reduce oxidative stress by modulating protein and lipid oxidation. Berries also improve the antioxidant enzyme system, thus, protect the body, and boost immune system. Therefore, regular consumption of berries in the form of berry juice or fresh or dry berries is an easy way to protect the body against oxidative stress.
Research has found that berries are very healthy for the liver and it provides protection to the liver. Indian gooseberry or Amla protects the liver against diseases and helps to restore normal liver function. Fibrosis of the liver is a state in which the structure and function of liver is affected. Oxidative stress and excess of free radicals cause damage to the liver and thus, increases the level of liver enzymes. These free radicals lower the content of glutathione, an important antioxidant and one of the most important defense systems of the liver. Indian gooseberry or Amla also has anti-fibrotic activity that prevents further damage to the liver.
Berries also improve the process of detoxification, which is a very important function of the liver and helps the body to get rid of toxins. Blueberries have shown to have a therapeutic effect on fibrosis of the liver. Blueberry reduces the risk of liver injury that is caused by liver diseases and thus, protects the liver. It also reduces the liver inflammation and peroxidation of lipids.
Berries contain chemo-preventive agents such as anthocyanins and ellagitannins, which are concentrated in them in huge amounts. The concentration of bioactive compounds in fresh berries is 10 times more as compared to dried berries. These compounds kill the cancer cells without causing damage to the healthy cells. They also prevent the conversion of pre-malignant cells to malignancy without causing any side effects.
Another mechanism through which berries protect against cancer is by scavenging free radicals. Berries possess very strong antioxidant properties and thus, reduce the load of free radicals. Through their ability to scavenge reactive oxygen species, reduce oxidative damage to DNA, stimulate antioxidant enzymes present in the body and improve DNA repair, health-promoting compounds present in berries have shown to inhibit spread of cancer to other organs of the body and cancer initiation.
Research has shown that red raspberry possesses antioxidant capacity and prevents the multiplication of cancer cells. Red raspberry lowers the level of inflammation and inhibits the growth of cancer cells. It has also shown to inhibit the growth of oral, mammary, prostate, colon and liver cancer cells. Red raspberry plays a very important role in the treatment of liver cancer and suppresses the formation of liver lesions.
Lowers High Blood Pressure or Hypertension
Research has shown that berries help to reduce high blood pressure and thus, lowers the overall risk of cardiovascular diseases. A study found that individuals with cardiovascular risk who ate berry and berry products for 8 weeks showed beneficial effect on high blood pressure levels. These individuals had lowered their systolic blood pressure as compared to individuals who did not consume berries at all.
Oxidative stress in the blood vessels and kidneys play an important role in hypertension. Blueberries contain huge amount of antioxidants that neutralize the free radicals and combat oxidative stress. A research observed that consuming freeze-dried blueberries for 2 months significantly reduced the blood pressure. At the end of 2 months, blueberries significantly lowered the markers of renal oxidative stress.
Another interesting study observed the vasodilatory effects of cranberry juice. It was found that cranberry juice had vaso-relaxing properties, which means drinking cranberry juice regularly helped the blood vessels to relax and widen. This helped the blood to flow easily all throughout the body. Such a property of cranberry is attributed to its high phenolic content.
Strawberry has also been evaluated for its potential to contribute to the dietary management of hypertension and its complications. It inhibits the activity of angiotensin converting enzyme that raises blood pressure. Thus, berries work similar to anti-hypertensive agents without causing any side effects. Therefore, they can be made a part of DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension).
Protects Against Infections
Scientific studies have found that phenolic compounds present in berries protect against pathogens and microbes. Besides this, berries are used as natural anti-microbial pharmaceutical.
Cranberry juice has been successfully used in the treatment of urinary tract infection and bilberries are used in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. Furthermore, it is found that cranberry also controls the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, bacteria that cause the infection listeriosis. Drinking cranberry juice may lower the production of biofilms by gram negative and gram positive bacteria on uroepithelial cells (cells lining the urinary tract).
Blackcurrant has shown to protect against gastric ulcer and gastritis by inhibiting the adhesion of Helicobacter pylori to the lining of the gut. Such an effect is attributed to high proanthocyanidins content of blackcurrants.
Research has found that the antimicrobial activity of cloudberry is highest followed by raspberry and strawberry. Such a strong antimicrobial activity is due to the presence of ellagitannin in cloudberry and raspberry and presence of ellagic acid in cranberry. Microbes such as Candida albicans and Campylobacter jejuni were sensitive to cloudberry, raspberry and strawberry.
Adhesion of staphylococcus aures to inert surfaces causes severe chronic infection. Bilberry and strawberry extracts have shown to kills staphylococcus cells and inhibit their adhesion. Thus, different berries via different mechanisms protects against various infections.
With increasing age, the risk of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease increases and thus, cognitive impairment also rises. It has been observed that polyphenols present in blueberries are able to lower the risk of neurodegenerative disorders and improves the cognitive performance. It also reduces the expression of inflammatory factors and thus, reduces the overall inflammation.
In addition to this, age-related decline in memory tasks can be improved by antioxidant rich diets containing blueberries. Furthermore, making berries a part of daily part had a positive impact on memory and learning. Berry polyphenols get accumulated in the brain structures that are involved in memory and learning. These polyphenols directly act on brain cells and reduce the level of inflammation and oxidative stress.
Different Ways to Consume Berries
- Enjoy juicy and delicious berries in their fresh form
- Make your own berry juice by combining a variety of berries or by using a single type of berry
- Berry jams taste amazing
- Blend berries and yogurt together to make a refreshing berry smoothie
- Berry milkshake is another relishing beverage
- Berries are an important ingredient for jellies and marmalades
- You can make fruit pancake by adding berries on top
- Berry sauce can enhance the taste of your cheesecakes and ice-creams
- Berries can be added to tarts and muffins
- You can enjoy berries all throughout the year in dried and frozen forms
- Dried berries can also be added to granola bars
- Berries can be added to your bowl of oatmeal
- Combine berries with other fruits to make a fruit salad
Ways to Store Berries
Once you have got home those delicious, colorful berries it is very important to store them properly in order to maintain their freshness. Wrong storage techniques can actually hasten their spoilage and may even affect its nutrient profile. Here are some simple and easy tips that will help you to store berries safely:
- Fresh-looking, good quality berries can be stored for a longer period as compared to berries that are over-ripe and mushy. While purchasing berries, see to it that their outer surface is free of spots and stains. Berries with the signs of bruising should never be purchased.
- Pay special attention to its color. If you find that the color is dull or the outer surface is not bright, do not buy such berries.
- It is better to eat fresh berries, that is, consume it as soon as you get them home. Fresh berries should not be stored for more than 3 days.
- Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are very delicate and soft and they should not be stored for a very long period. You can keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Mulberries and blackberries can be placed in an open dish and stored in the refrigerator. Do not store them in an airtight container or bag.
- As compared to other berries, cranberry can be stored for a little longer period of time (one week). They taste better in frozen and dried form.
- Gooseberries can be safely stored in the refrigerator. Do not store it in an airtight container; just lightly cover it with a lid.
- If the berries are stored in a warm place or if they are directly in contact with the rays of the sun, they may get spoiled very quickly.
- After washing the berries, pat them dry with the help of a cloth or a paper towel. Make sure they are completely dry before you place them in the refrigerator.
- Berries are juicy and fleshy; washing them directly under running water can damage them. Place the berries in a colander and dip them in a bowl of cold water. Swish the colander in the cold water gently and allow the berries to drain.
Some of the commonly consumed berries in fresh and processed form include:
- American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
- Black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis)
- Blackberry (Rubus spp)
- Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum)
- Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
- European cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus)
- Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis)
- Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitisidaea)
- Red raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
- Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa)
Some of the less popular berries include:
- Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
- Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum)
- Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
- Silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea)
Berries are very different from each other in terms of shape, size, color, taste, flavor, aroma, overall appearance and nutrient profile. The nutrient profile of each berry depends on the area or region of their cultivation, the climatic conditions of that particular region and the type of soil. All these factors make berries very different from each other. Let’s have a look at berries and how different they are from each other:
Unripe blackberries are light red in color and its color changes to purplish-black as soon as it ripens. Blackberry and black raspberry are very similar in appearance but both have very different characteristics. A very easy way to differentiate between the two is though their ‘core’. Blackberries have a white core whereas black raspberries are hollow in the center. The main regions for production of blackberry include Asia, North America, Europe, Central America, Oceania and Africa. Since the 16th century, blackberries are very well known and famous for their medical properties in Europe.
Black raspberry was first cultivated in North America. It is purplish-black in color due to high concentration of anthocyanins in it. Though its features are similar to blackberry, its taste is completely different from blackberry.
Blueberry is native to North America and there are three different blueberry species, these include:
- Highbush blueberries
- Lowbush blueberries (wild blueberry)
- Rabbiteye blueberries
As the name suggests, ripe blueberries are fully blue in color and their size may range from a small pea to a marble. Each berry has a grayish-white covering that serves as a protective coat. The flesh of blueberry is slightly transparent and the flesh contains small seeds.
Cranberry is usually consumed in the form of juices, sauces or as a dried fruit in cereal bar. Very less individuals actually consume whole and fresh cranberries. Unripe cranberry is usually white in color but as it ripens, it turns into a beautiful red color. American cranberry is larger in size as compared to European cranberry. In addition to this, European cranberry has an acidic flavor whereas American cranberry tastes somewhat like apple.
Red raspberry is a red colored berry that is native to Asia and Europe. There are approximately 10 different varieties of raspberry, which are commonly cultivated and each of it is extremely beneficial for health.
Strawberry is an important fruit of the Mediterranean diet due to its high antioxidant content. Strawberry is a juicy red fruit and it has tiny seeds on its surface. There are around more than 600 different varieties of strawberries available all around the world. It is usually consumed fresh or in the form of jams, jellies and juices.
Blackcurrant was first cultivated in Asia and northern Europe. The taste of blackcurrant is very different from other berries. It usually has a sweet and earthy taste. It contains different compounds that contribute to its strong aroma. Besides being used in jams and jellies, blackcurrant is an important ingredient for wines.
While other berries have deep and dark color, Indian gooseberry is light green in color. It is round in shape and it contains vertical stripes on the surface. Unlike other berries, it does not have a sweet taste. In fact, it is astringent, bitter and sour. Indian gooseberry is highly valued for its medicinal properties in Ayurveda and its use is increasing in the Western countries too.