Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.
They are delicious, nutritious and provide a number of impressive health benefits.
Here are 11 good reasons to include berries in your diet.
1. Berries Are Loaded With Antioxidants
Berries contain antioxidants, which help keep free radicals under control.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that occur as a normal byproduct of metabolism. It’s important to have a small amount of free radicals in your body to help defend against bacteria and viruses.
However, free radicals can also damage your cells when present in excessive amounts. Antioxidants can help neutralize these compounds.
Berries are a great source of antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, ellagic acid and resveratrol. In addition to protecting your cells, these plant compounds may reduce the risk of disease.
One study showed that blueberries, blackberries and raspberries have the highest antioxidant activity of commonly consumed fruits, next to pomegranates.
In fact, several studies have confirmed that the antioxidants in berries may help reduce oxidative stress.
One study in healthy men found that consuming a single, 10-ounce (300-gram) portion of blueberries helped protect their DNA against free radical damage.
In another study, when healthy people consumed 17 ounces (500 grams) of strawberry pulp every day for 30 days, one pro-oxidant marker decreased by 38%.
Bottom Line: Berries are high in antioxidants such as anthocyanins, which may protect cells from free radical damage.
2. Berries May Help Improve Blood Sugar and Insulin Response
Berries may improve your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Test-tube and human studies suggest they may protect cells from high blood sugar levels, help increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar and insulin response to high-carb meals.
Importantly, these effects appear to occur in both healthy people and those with insulin resistance.
In one study of healthy women, consuming 5 ounces (150 grams) of puréed strawberries or mixed berries with bread led to a 24–26% reduction in insulin levels, compared to consuming the bread alone.
Moreover, in a six-week study, obese, insulin-resistant people who consumed a blueberry smoothie twice per day experienced greater improvements in insulin sensitivity than the group who consumed smoothies without berries.
Bottom Line: Berries may improve blood sugar and insulin response when consumed with high-carb foods or when included in smoothies.
3. Berries Are High in Fiber
Berries are a good source of fiber, including soluble fiber. Studies have shown that consuming soluble fiber slows down the movement of food through your digestive tract, leading to reduced hunger and increased feelings of fullness.
This may decrease your calorie intake and make weight management easier.
What’s more, fiber helps reduce the number of calories you absorb from mixed meals. One study found that doubling your fiber intake could help your body absorb up to 130 fewer calories per day.
In addition, the high fiber content of berries means that their digestible or net carb content low. Net carbs are calculated by subtracting fiber from total carbs.
These are the carb and fiber counts per one-cup serving of berries:
- Raspberries: 15 grams of carbs, 8 of which are fiber.
- Blackberries: 15 grams of carbs, 8 of which are fiber.
- Strawberries: 12 grams of carbs, 3 of which are fiber.
- Blueberries: 21 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber.
Because of their low net carb content, berries are a low-carb friendly food.
Bottom Line: Berries contain fiber, which may help decrease appetite, increase feelings of fullness and reduce the number of calories your body absorbs from mixed meals.
4. Berries Provide Many Nutrients
Berries are low in calories and extremely nutritious. In addition to being high in antioxidants, they also contain several vitamins and minerals.
Berries, especially strawberries, are high in vitamin C. In fact, one cup of strawberries provides a whopping 150% of the RDI for vitamin C.
With the exception of vitamin C, all berries are fairly similar in terms of their vitamin and mineral contents.
Below is the nutrition content of a one-cup (144-gram) serving of blackberries:
- Calories: 62.
- Vitamin C: 50% of the RDI.
- Manganese: 47% of the RDI.
- Vitamin K: 36% of the RDI.
- Copper: 12% of the RDI.
- Folate: 9% of the RDI.
The calorie count for one cup of berries ranges from 49 for strawberries to 84 for blueberries, making berries some of the lowest-calorie fruits around.
Bottom Line: Berries are rich in several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C and manganese, yet low in calories.
5. The Antioxidants in Them Help Fight Inflammation
Berries have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation is your body’s way of mounting a defense against infection or injury.
However, modern lifestyles often lead to excessive, sustained inflammation due to increased stress, inadequate physical activity and unhealthy food choices.
This type of chronic inflammation is believed to contribute to the development of diabetes, heart disease and obesity, among other diseases.
Inflammation in the body is measured by looking at changes in certain markers, such as IL-6 and CRP. Elevated levels of CRP have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Studies suggest that the antioxidants in berries may help lower these inflammatory markers.
In one study, when overweight people consumed a strawberry beverage with a high-carb, high-fat meal, their IL-6 and CRP levels decreased significantly more than the group who consumed a beverage without strawberries.
Bottom Line: Berries may help reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of heart disease and other health problems.
6. Berries May Help Lower Cholesterol Levels
Berries are a heart-healthy food.
Black raspberries and strawberries have been shown to help lower cholesterol in obese people and those with metabolic syndrome.
In one study, adults with metabolic syndrome who consumed a beverage made from freeze-dried strawberries daily for eight weeks experienced an 11% drop in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
What’s more, berries may help prevent LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized or damaged, which is believed to be a major risk factor for heart disease.
In a controlled study, when obese people consumed 1.5 ounces (50 grams) of freeze-dried blueberries for eight weeks, their oxidized LDL levels decreased by 28%.
Bottom Line: Berries have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels and help protect LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized.
7. Berries May Be Good for Your Skin
In addition to their many other health benefits, berries may help reduce skin wrinkling.
This makes sense, given that the antioxidants in berries help control free radicals, one of the leading causes of skin damage that contributes to aging.
Although there isn’t a lot of research at this point, ellagic acid appears to be responsible for some of berries’ skin-related benefits.
Test-tube and animal studies suggest that this antioxidant may help protect skin by blocking the production of enzymes that break down collagen in sun-damaged skin.
Collagen is a protein that is part of skin’s structure. It allows skin to stretch and remain firm. When collagen is damaged, skin may sag and develop wrinkles.
In one study, applying ellagic acid to the skin of hairless mice that were exposed to ultraviolet light for eight weeks decreased inflammation and helped protect collagen from damage.
Bottom Line: Berries contain the antioxidant ellagic acid, which may help decrease wrinkling and other signs of skin aging related to sun exposure.
8. Berry Antioxidants May Help Protect Against Cancer
Several antioxidants in berries, including anthocyanins, ellagic acid and resveratrol, may reduce the risk of cancer.
Specifically, animal and human studies suggest that berries may help protect against cancer of the esophagus, mouth, breast and colon.
In one study, 20 patients with colon cancer consumed 2 ounces (60 grams) of freeze-dried raspberries for 1–9 weeks. This treatment was found to improve tumor markers in some patients, although not all.
Another test-tube study found that all types of strawberries had strong, protective effects on liver cancer cells, whether they were high or low in antioxidants.
Bottom Line: Berries have been shown to reduce markers associated with tumor growth in animals and people with several types of cancer.
9. Berries Can Be Enjoyed on Nearly All Types of Diets
Fortunately, berries can be included in many kinds of diets.
Although people on low-carb and ketogenic diets often avoid fruit, they can usually enjoy moderate amounts of berries. For example, a half-cup serving of blackberries or raspberries contains less than 4 grams of digestible carbs.
Liberal amounts of berries can be incorporated into the paleo, Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets.
For people who want to lose weight, the low calories in berries make them ideal to include in meals, snacks or desserts.
Organic and wild berries are now widely available in many parts of the world. When they are not in season, frozen berries can be purchased and thawed as needed.
The only people who need to avoid berries are those who require a low-fiber diet for certain digestive disorders, as well as individuals who are allergic to berries. Allergic reactions to strawberries are most common.
Bottom Line: Berries can be enjoyed on most diets because they are low in calories and carbs and widely available in fresh or frozen forms.
10. They May Help Keep Your Arteries Healthy
In addition to lowering cholesterol, berries provide other benefits for heart health. One of these is better function of your arteries.
The cells that line your blood vessels are called endothelial cells. These cells help control blood pressure, keep blood from clotting and perform other important functions.
Excessive inflammation can damage them, inhibiting proper function. The term for this is endothelial dysfunction, and it’s a major risk factor for heart disease.
Berries have been shown to improve endothelial function in studies in healthy adults, individuals with metabolic syndrome and smokers.
In a controlled study of 44 people with metabolic syndrome, those who consumed a daily blueberry smoothie showed significant improvements in endothelial function, compared to those who consumed a smoothie without blueberries.
Even though fresh berries are considered the healthiest, berries in processed form may still provide some heart-healthy benefits. Baked berry products are considered processed, whereas freeze-dried berries are not.
One study found that although baking blueberries reduced their anthocyanin content, total antioxidant concentrations remained the same. Arterial function improved similarly in people who consumed baked or freeze-dried berries.
Bottom Line: Berries have been found to improve arterial function in several studies of healthy people, those with metabolic syndrome and smokers.
11. Berries Are Delicious Alone or in Healthy Recipes
Berries are undeniably delicious.
They make a wonderful snack or dessert, whether you use one type of berry or a mixture of two or more.
Although they are naturally sweet and require no additional sweetener, adding a bit of heavy or whipped cream can transform them into a more elegant dessert.
For breakfast, try berries topped with either plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or ricotta cheese, along with some chopped nuts.
Another way to include berries in your diet is as part of a salad.
Here are a few healthy salad recipes featuring berries:
- Raspberry, Chicken, Feta and Hemp Salad
- Arugula, Berries and Goat Cheese Salad With Poppyseed Dressing
- Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad With Lemon Basil Dressing
- Strawberry Chicken Salad With Warm Citrus Vinaigrette
Bottom Line: Berries are delicious when served alone, with cream or in healthy recipes.
Take Home Message
Berries taste great, are highly nutritious and provide many health benefits.
By including them in your diet on a regular basis, you can improve your overall health in a very enjoyable way.
*Article originally appeared at Authority Nutrition.