One of the sure signs of summer is fresh, local berries on the farmers’ market stands. You may love them for their sweetness, but make no mistake, berries are among the best foods for you. Their vibrant colors – reds, blues, purples – give berries their health benefits. Flavonoids, which create the pigments, work as antioxidants and may help reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Before you buy, consider freshness: the fresher the berries, the better tasting. So choose locally grown, in-season fruits, or better yet, grow your own! And pick organic when you can. Raspberries and strawberries in particular have tested positive for pesticide residues.
Be sure to look for berries from the Himalayan region and South America, too: Goji and açaí berries are touted as the latest super foods. Both pack a powerful punch for your health and are becoming more readily accessible at health food stores and supermarkets.
What is it? A ruby red berry that’s grown on a woody stem.
Why we love it: It’s not just their sweet yet tangy flavor, raspberries boast flavonoids that can counter cell damage in the body, potentially reducing the risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. They’re also a rich source of vitamin C and provide useful amounts of fiber, folate, iron and potassium.
Where to use it: Raspberries pair well with other fruit, but they are equally delicious eaten on their own.
What is it? A plump sweet-tart sphere-shaped berry.
Why we love it: Blueberries contain potent antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and may also curb the growth of cancer cells. Just 3.5 ounces provide the equivalent antioxidant capacity of five servings of some other fruits and vegetables, including broccoli and kale, so they’re potent against heart-, brain- and age-related illnesses. They’re also a good source of fiber, vitamin C and iron. Blueberries may protect against some intestinal upsets and urinary tract infections.
Where to use it: Try an antioxidant smoothie: Blend ½ cup of fresh blueberries with 1 cup of unsweetened pomegranate juice and ¼ cup crushed ice.
What is it: A rich, purple bulbous berry. Fully ripe, they’re sweet and juicy. Although some cultivated varieties are tart.
Why we love it: Like all berries, blackberries are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, and rank among the healthiest fruits. They’re low in calories and high in fibre (because of all the seeds). Blackberries are also a good source of vitamin C (15 mg/1/2 cup and 40% recommended daily intake) flavonoids, folate, vitamin E, iron and calcium.
Where to use it: While they’re in season in spring and summer, take advantage and devour them by the bowlful on their own. Blackberries are also delicious on top of a high-fiber cereal with nut milk.
What is it? An early-summer favorite, sweet juicy strawberries grow on vines, which are easy-to-grow. Be careful! Strawberries are extremely invasive and will overtake your garden beds, so grow plants in their own container.
Why we love it: Strawberries rival citrus fruits for vitamin C content, and are packed with antioxidants too. They’re low in calories and high in fibre, folate and potassium.
Where to use it: Look for organic berries that are red all the way to the tip, a sign that they’re fully ripe (strawberries won’t ripen after picking). Beware of mould: It spreads quickly, so if you’re not using your strawberries immediately, look through the container and pick out any spoiled ones. Plan to use the berries within a day or two.
What is it? Also known as wolfberry, the Goji Berry is native to China and Tibet with a consistency similar to cranberries. They’ve been used in traditional Chinese medicine for almost 2,000 years.
Why we love it: The Goji Berry has sparked some interest for its use in treating diabetes, hypertension, malaria, fever, cancer and other ailments. It’s also a match for oranges in vitamin C and carrots for beta-carotene.
Where to use it: Add dried berries to your cereal or trail mix.
6. Açaí Berry
What is it? A deep purple berry that grows on the açaí palm in the Amazon forest of Brazil.
Why we love it: The nutrients come from the pulp and skin of the fruit and tastes like a mix of cherries and chocolate. Like blueberries, the rich color of açaí comes from its high concentration of anthocyanins, a powerful group of antioxidants, which combat free radicals, help slow signs of aging, support the immune system and healthy skin.
Where to use it: Use the raw pulp in a smoothie with other fresh fruits and veggies. Keep in mind, using anything but the raw pulp means you’ll miss out on açaí’s nutrient power.
Image Source: Ivan Bandura/Flickr