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Lynn Little: 'Berry' good choices for your diet

July 29, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Berries are some of the most nutritious fruits available. In addition to having a lot of vitamin C, folic acid and dietary fiber, they also contain antioxidants that are important to your health.

The pigment that gives berries their dark blue, red and purple colors slows down or prevents damage to the body's cells. This pigment might help to slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, maintain a healthy heart, maintain brain function as we age, reduce the risk of infection and promote urinary tract health.

Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are among the top-10, antioxidant-containing fruits in a list developed by Tufts University's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. Blueberries are listed among the Mayo Clinic's top-10 healthiest foods, and the National Cancer Institute promotes raspberries, particularly black raspberries, because of their high levels of cancer-fighting anthocyanins.

No matter what kind of berries you eat, you'll be making a good choice toward consuming the 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit per day recommended for most people. Any berry is a great choice as a snack or dessert, or an addition to cereal, salad and other dishes.

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Four of the most commonly enjoyed berries are:

  • Strawberries. A 1/2-cup of raw strawberries has just 25 calories, and you get about 1.5 grams of fiber, 75 percent of the vitamin C you need and 15 percent of the manganese you need in a day. Strawberries are also a good source of folate and potassium.

    Ripe strawberries should be fully red with a bright luster, and the caps should be bright green. Smaller strawberries often have more flavor than larger ones.

  • Blueberries. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database, a 1/2 cup of raw blueberries has just 42 calories, but offers 2 grams of fiber, 12 percent of the vitamin C you need each day, and 18 percent of the daily dose of vitamin K.

    Blueberries are also a good source of manganese, offering about 12 percent of the daily recommendation.

    Choose blueberries that are plump, firm and dark blue with a waxy, silvery bloom.

  • Raspberries. A 1/2 cup of raw raspberries has 32 calories and offers 4 grams of fiber. It gives you 27 percent of the vitamin C you need in a day, and 20 percent of the manganese. Raspberries are also a good source of vitamin K and magnesium.

    Ripe raspberries should be large, bright, firm, shiny and uniform in color.

  • Blackberries. A 1/2 cup of raw blackberries has 31 calories and four grams of fiber. Like the other berries, blackberries are a very good source of vitamin C (25 percent of the daily recommendation), vitamin K (18 percent) and manganese (24 percent). In addition, blackberries are a good source of vitamin E, folate, magnesium, potassium and copper.

    Upon ripening, blackberries become dull black and just begin to soften.

    All berries are fragile; handle them carefully and refrigerate them immediately after purchase. Before storing in the refrigerator, throw away any overripe or damaged berries. Rinse berries gently under cool water just before using.

    Berries can be frozen and enjoyed when fresh berries are not available or more costly. Rinse and pat dry and spread in a single layer on a large cookie sheet. Freeze, then put berries in a plastic bag. Keep frozen until ready to use. This method makes it possible to measure just the amount you need. Be sure to close the bag tightly to prevent freezer burn on the remaining fruit. Use the frozen berries within one year.

    Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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