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Health benefits of berries

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Berries are highly nutritious and delicious as edible plant foods. They provide many health benefits for which they are referred to as being among the healthiest foods you can find. Berries are small, rounded and pulpy fruits, which are separated as edible and those that are poisonous and so, not edible. They are juicy and can be sweet or sour and outwardly, they are brightly coloured.

Common edible berries are strawberries, blue berries, blackberries, raspberries and red, white and black currants. Berries have extensive culinary uses and most commonly used berry in the food industry is strawberry used in jams, ice creams, smoothies, pies and cakes.

Definition of berriesBotanically, a berry is defined as a fruit with seeds and a fleshy pulp. The pulp is produced from the ovary of a single flower. This definition of a berry and its everyday use gives rise to three categories of berries: 1. Fruits that fall under the two definitions. 2. Botanical berries that are not known as berries and 3. Parts of plants that may be referred to as berries but are not botanically defined as such and may not even be fruits.

In all these and of interest to us are some fruits botanically defined as berries but are not commonly called berries. These include tomatoes, bananas, aubegines or eggplant, pumpkins, cucumber and watermelon. The colour of different berries re attributed to the plant pigments in them. Common among these are anthocyanins, which also make them flavonoids. These are found mainly in the skin, seeds and leaved of berries. Anthocyanins are antioxidants, which confer this property to the berries. There are also significantly high in their fiber content, also found under the skin of the fruit and seed.

Vitamins and minerals in berries
Berries are particularly high in their vitamin C content, strawberry containing the highest value. Other vitamins found in berries are Vitamins A. E, K and folate. Minerals in berries are magnesium, potassium, sodium and iron. Apart from anthocyanins, quercetin, rutin and resveratrol are other phytonutrients found in berries.

Health benefits of berries
1. Berries contain loads of antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals and prevent damave to surrounding cell structures by oxidative stress. Free radicals are unstable and unbalanced oxygen species which very reactive seeking an electron from nearby structures to balance and pair with the electron in its outer orbit. It can collect an electron from structures like cell membrane, cell nucleus, organelle membrane, DNA in the nucleus, carbohydrates etc. A process called oxidative stress will destroy the structure from where the free radical got the electron. It is the role of the antioxidants to supply the missing electron to the free radical. Antioxidants in berries are anthocyanins, ellagic acid, resveratrol. Next to pomegranate, blueberries and blackberries have the highest antioxidant activity.

2. Provision of different kinds of nutrients
Berries are loaded with vitamins, Vitamins A, C, E and K and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, iron and sodium. All these together with the phytonutrients make berries very nutritious fruits. Also, in all that they are low in calories.

3. High fiber content
Soluble and insoluble fibres are high in berries. With berries in the intestines, the movement of food is slowed down and this leads to increase in satiety and reduction of hunger. This is particularly useful in obese individuals as the intake of calories is reduced.
4. Improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar response to insulin
Berries help to increase insulin sensitivity allowing more sugar into the cells and reduce the blood sugar level. Insulin response to a high carbohydrate meal also improves with berries.

5. Berries have strong anti-inflammatory properties
The antioxidants in berries give them very strong anti-inflammatory properties, which help them to combat chronic inflammation in conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

6. Protects against cancer
Antioxidants found in berries – anthocyanins, ellagic acid and resveratrol have been shown to prevent cancer. Examples of cancers that have shown promising results are cancers of the oesophagus, mouth, breast, colon and liver.

7. Lower cholesterol
Berries are included among the heart-healthy foods. Strawberries and raspberries have been found to lower blood cholesterol in obese individuals. Also, strawberries and blueberries lower LDL cholesterol in obese individuals and prevent heart disease. Oxidized LDL cholesterol is a risk factor in heart disease. Blueberries prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

8. Helps to maintain the health of arteries
Apart from lowering the blood cholesterol level and preventing heart disease, berries also maintain the health of arteries. They do this by preventing inflammation of the endothelial cells that line the arteries. Endothelial cell function improves with the consumption of berries.


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berriesPaul Joseph Nanna
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