As an RD, I am often asked what my favorite staple foods are. Naturally, I have several, but one that remains consistent is a bag of berries in my freezer. This convenient and tasty option packs a nutrition punch. Plus, who doesn’t like having something nutritious on hand that will keep for months rather than days?
At the moment, I’ve got mixed berries and wild blueberries. I’ve been on a smoothie kick lately, and these are a perfect addition!
So what is it I like so much about adding berries to my diet? Berries are a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants- all while remaining low-calorie. Let’s break that down a bit:
Vitamins: Most berries are high in vitamin C- especially strawberries! They also provide vitamin K and minerals, like manganese, copper, and folate. Vitamin C helps the immune system and doubles as an antioxidant. Vitamin K helps the blood to clot properly.
Minerals: Manganese is a trace mineral involved in several body systems, from metabolism to bone health to vascular function. Copper is also a multi-tasking mineral- in addition to its role in the production and function of red blood cells, it is also involved in the expression of our genes. And folate is required for the metabolism of our foods and their conversion to energy.
Fiber: You might hear “fiber” and immediately think “bathroom,” and it’s true that adequate fiber is necessary to keep you regular. But fiber is also great for your heart. It helps prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the gut, and adequate intake is correlated to lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is also digested by the good-for-you microbes that live in our colon, which in turn produce short chain fatty acids like butyrate. Butyrate is the primary source of energy for our gut cells! The latest recommendations suggest that men need about 30 grams of fiber per day, and women need 25 grams. One cup of mixed berries provides anywhere from 4-8g, depending on the brand and the mix. So berries can make a considerable dent in your day’s fiber goal!
Antioxidants: These tiny compounds fight the accumulation of free radicals in the body, which can damage your cells over time and contribute to aging. There is some evidence that antioxidants may also help lower inflammation, which is correlated to lower risk of chronic disease. Blueberries have a very impressive antioxidant profile, with raspberries coming in as a close second. In fact, the antioxidants in blueberries are often touted as a brain tonic.
I mentioned that I currently have a bag of wild blueberries as well as a mix. This may seem redundant, as berry mixes often contain blueberries too, but I’d like to make a distinction between wild blueberries and cultivated ones. Wild blueberries are almost exclusively available in frozen form- you’ll rarely see them sold fresh. They are quite small compared to conventional, but they pack more than twice the antioxidants as regular blueberries per serving! And as we’ve just learned, antioxidants do great things for the body.
So, if I can get more nutrition bang-for-my-buck from wild blueberries, I will happily put up with an extra bag in the freezer. Plus, I find the small size much more practical for mixing into oatmeal, pancakes, muffins, etc. It’s a win-win!
You’ll find frozen berries at any grocery store, likely in different variety packs. There isn’t one right answer. I try to find a mix that offers a range of colors, as each color usually offers slightly different nutrients. Strawberries, cherries, blackberries, raspberries… they all offer those health benefits listed above. So go ahead and pick whichever mix resonates with your own taste buds, and throw them into a recipe this week. Your brain and body will thank you, and your taste buds, too! (And while you’re at it, it is totally okay to pause and admire the vibrant colors. In fact, go ahead and snap a pic to share- take pride in your creation!).