THEY have been described as nature’s superfood and now is the perfect time to stock up on berries.
Whether you buy them in the supermarket or forage in the hedgerows berries are a wonderful source of nutrients. What’s more they are easy to prepare and naturally low in calories and fat.
Home-grown berries are available right through the summer into late autumn and thanks to the warm spring this season there’s a record crop.
Plant compounds found in berries could protect against many forms of cancer. It’s not clear exactly how they work but they’re thought to keep the body’s cells healthy. Some fruits and berries contain higher concentrations of these compounds than others and a simple test is to look at the colour.
Dense, dark colours are a good sign that berries are bursting with goodness. Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries all fall into this category.
Some studies show that raspberries contain 10 times more of these compounds than tomatoes and broccoli. Berries are also a source of fibre, which is important for general health and the gut.
The natural sugars found in berries make them a great alternative to biscuits, cakes and other sweet snacks. Bridget Benelam, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, says: “A slice of cake contains about 10 times more calories than the equivalent weight of berries. Berries are also virtually fat-free.”
Try not to add sugar to naturally sweet berries such as strawberries and raspberries. You can also use them as an alternative to sugar in cooking. Sprinkle a handful of blueberries on your bowl of cereal or add berries to a salad.
In addition to containing plant compounds it’s thought that blueberries may help lower cholesterol and contain a substance which can prevent bladder infections. When shopping for jams give sugar-free versions a try but watch out for berry drinks with added sugar, such as cranberry juice. Too much sugar can cause tooth decay.
Nothing beats the taste and texture of freshly picked berries but the good news is that they remain healthy after they’ve been frozen.
Berries are at their best when they’ve been freshly harvested. Ways of ensuring that your berries are at their peak is to buy local or visit a fruit farm where you can pick your own.
It’s not only fun and usually cheaper than a supermarket but also a good way of encouraging children to eat more fruit. They’re more likely to do that if they have harvested the berries themselves and become involved in the food’s journey from field to meal table.
Most berries tend to become a bit mushy when they are defrosted but that doesn’t affect their goodness so you can pop a few portions in the freezer when they are in season for use later on.
Berries in all forms can be mixed together to make great tasting juices or added to milk, bananas and yogurt to produce smoothies.
Bridget adds: “Berries do lose some of their goodness if dried but are still a healthy option. Frozen berries are great because it’s usually done soon after harvesting.”
One of the best berries, the humble blackberry, can be gathered free by foraging in hedgerows. Blackberries contain among the best levels of healthy plant compounds and British varieties are available until November.
Compounds in the common British blackcurrant could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, a study suggests. Research in the Journal Of The Science Of Food And Agriculture found they may help block the cell damage which leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
Eating berries won’t cure dementia but the researchers think they can help prevent it.
Most berries contain vitamin C but the blackcurrant is tops, followed in second place by the strawberry.
Blackcurrants contain about 10 times more vitamin C than many other berries. We need vitamin C for a healthy immune system.