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August 18, 2022
216: The Amazing Health Benefits of Berries

Whether you buy organic or commercially grown berries, it is essential to understand why we should consume them daily. Today, we'll discuss the health advantages of berries and how to buy them and incorporate them into your d...


Whether you buy organic or commercially grown berries, it is essential to understand why we should consume them daily. Today, we'll discuss the health advantages of berries and how to buy them and incorporate them into your diet. Keep tuning in to learn more about the wonders of berries.

In this episode, you will learn: 

  • How to shop and store berries
  • Organic vs. conventionally grown berries
  • Why you should eat berries daily

Other episodes you'll enjoy
210: The Real Cost of Eating Healthy | Why Plant-Based Foods are More Affordable Than You Think


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Transcript

The only fruit I knew was the orange when I was a child. I don't have too many memories of actually eating fruit. I didn't consume it regularly. 

My sisters and I were very young when we migrated to the states. My parents had the idea of purchasing fruit in bulk and reselling it to our neighbors to earn extra money. No one seemed to complain when sweet young girls offered them a bucket of fruit for around 50 cents. Honestly, I can't remember how much we charged back then.  

We mainly sold oranges and apples one basket at a time. Once we were home, I recall snacking on them like they were candy. I loved the oranges so much.  

I feel grateful when I reflect on those fond memories of my humble beginnings. I share these memories with you to acknowledge that every day, there are families like mine living with little access to nutritious food. I don't recall tasting blueberries until later in my life for two reasons: they were not part of what we ate daily and were not within our budget. Today, I have the resources to enjoy berries as much as I want, and I feel grateful.  

Berries have been on my mind lately. I find them in my oatmeal, salads, and blueberry muffins. So it is no surprise that I made blueberry crisp and strawberry chia pudding for dessert as I contemplated today's topic.  

In this episode, I will discuss why we should consume berries daily. We will cover the benefits of consuming berries, how to shop for them, store them, and add them to your diet. I will touch on whether or not we should purchase organic berries versus conventionally grown berries. And yes, I will keep in mind that many people will still avoid buying nutritious foods because "they are too expensive." Please visit episode 210, where I discussed the actual cost of eating healthy foods. 

Berries are part of Dr. Michael Greger's Daily Dozen recommendations. He says you should have at least one serving of 1/2 cup of berries daily.  

Berries are highly nutritious. Dr. Greger says that if greens are the healthiest vegetables on the planet, berries are the most beneficial of fruits. The anthocyanins responsible for the deep blue hue in blueberries can help lower our risk for heart disease. They are small but mighty. Blueberries are rich in vitamin c and fiber.

Various berries include raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, huckleberries, goji berries, lingonberries, blackberries, cranberries, and elderberries.  

Flavonoid-rich foods, such as apples, berries, and pears, lower blood pressure, according to a study published online in Hypertension. Researchers sequenced gut microbiomes for 904 participants and compared intakes of flavonoid-rich foods with blood pressure levels. Participants with the highest consumption of these fruits and red wine lowered systolic blood pressure compared to those with the lowest intake of these foods. The authors attribute the lower blood pressure readings to positive changes in gut bacteria diversity. These findings show similar dietary interventions may clinically benefit vascular outcomes and cardiometabolic health.  

Before you rush to grab a glass of wine, consider grabbing a handful of berries to improve your blood pressure and reduce your heart disease risks. In a future episode, we will discuss why no amount of alcohol is the best way to go. Alcohol consumption increases your risk for cancer and dementia, among other things.   

According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dietary flavonoids from berries, apples, and other plant-based foods help protect against Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Researchers reviewed diet record data and compared flavonoid intake and dementia incidence rates for 2,801 participants from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. Those with the highest total flavonoid intake from oranges, pears, strawberries, and other plant-based foods were 40% less likely to develop dementia when compared to those with the lowest flavonoids. The authors attribute the reduced risk to antioxidant and anti-neuroinflammation effects associated with flavonoid intake. These foods also improve cerebrovascular blood flow, which may protect against cognitive decline later in life. 

Team Sherzai, Ayesha & Dean Sherzai are the highly credentialed co-directors of the Brain Health and Alzheimer's Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center. They've studied all things brain health, focusing on lifestyle interventions to prevent cognitive decline and neurodegeneration. Their 30-Day Alzheimer's Solution book includes blueberries as part of their Neuro 9 Plan. These nine foods are crucial for maintaining and improving your cognitive health. They, too, recommend daily consumption of 1/2 cup of blueberries.  

Blueberries stand tall even in such good company as blackberries and strawberries. Studies have shown their reduced risks for dementia. They contain more polyphenolic compounds, specifically anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Anthocyanins help increase neural signaling in the brain's areas responsible for memory function and improve glucose delivery to the brain. Studies have shown that when people regularly consume blueberries, they experience improved learning, better recall, and reduced symptoms of depression. 

  1. Reduce the risk of heart attack  
  2. Lower blood pressure. Wild blueberries boost vascular health by helping to improve blood circulation.  
  3. Berries help prevent cancer by increasing natural killer cells, NK cells,  like tiny soldiers constantly scanning the body for invaders such as viruses and tumors that destroy them. 
  4. Improve insulin sensitivity  
  5. Blueberries are good for our brains.  

Berries help protect against free radical damage to cells and organs. Wild huckleberries and lingonberries have some of the highest antioxidant capacities out of all the berries on the ORAC scale.  

Berries are second only to herbs and spices as the most antioxidant-packed food category. As a group, they average nearly ten times more antioxidants than other fruits. and vegetables and exceed 50 times more than animal-based foods.  

In his book, How Not To Die, Dr. Michael Greger points out the tremendous benefits of consuming berries. He says, "America's favorite fruits are apples and bananas with the antioxidant power of about 60 units and 40 units, respectively. Mangoes, the preferred fruit around the world outside of the United States, have even more antioxidant punch at around 110 units, but none of these fruits are a match for berries. Strawberries weigh in at 310  units per cup. Cranberries at 330. Raspberries at 350. Blueberries at 380 (wild berries may have twice as much) and blackberries at a whopping 650  units." Eating more berries may help boost heart and brain health and reduce the risk of diseases related to chronic inflammation. So let's consume them regularly.  

Now that I've convinced you about why you should eat berries daily let's look at how to shop, store and add them to your diet.  

Shopping for berries: 

Varieties of berries include acai berries, barberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, concord grapes, cranberries, goji berries, kumquats,  mulberries, raspberries (black or red), and strawberries.  

Whenever possible, I try to purchase organic berries. Our goal is to find these colorful fruits in the produce section of our grocery store.  

Berries come in small plastic containers. You can look at the expiration date on the packaging. Look to see if any berries are damaged since one lousy berry can spoil the rest. Employees typically move the recently packaged produce to the back of the shelf and add the older items to the front since they want to move them out of the store. I once had a Trader Joe's employee encourage me to grab the best thing on the shelf and not to be shy about it.  

I purchase my wild blueberries in the frozen section of Trader Joe's. When berries are in season, they are fresher, more available, and affordable. Recently I went to my local Sprouts and found the blueberries at 2/$5 for the pint. My dried blueberries come from Trader Joe's because they are more affordable.  

Berries are nutritional, whether they are raw, frozen, or dried. But as soon as you process the berries and add sugar to make, for example, jams, and jellies, they lose some of their nutritional value.   

How to care for berries  

Grocery stores usually package green veggies and berries in plastic bags and containers. Once you are home, take them out and use paper towels to reduce the moisture.  

I sort through the berries because there will usually be one little guy that gets injured in the packaging. This guy will spoil the rest of your berries. Line the same container with a paper towel and dump the berries back into the container.  

How do I eat berries: 

Do not rinse your berries ahead of time. Rinse them just before use. Remember, we want to reduce the moisture which can cause them to spoil.  

Here are various ways that I enjoy berries. 

  • I enjoy dried blueberries in my oatmeal. Sometimes I add the frozen wild berries into my oatmeal and still top my breakfast with fresh blueberries.  
  • Years ago, I learned about acai bowls. They are like smoothie bowls topped with bananas and berries. Smoothies are a great way to add berries. But over time, I found it very expensive to purchase these bowls from juice stores. Not to mention that they typically add sugar to the bowls.  
  • Then I found the frozen pureed acai at a local grocery store. That's when I started making my smoothie bowls at home.  
  • If I am solely making a smoothie, I add blueberries and goji berries into the mix.  
  • Strawberries taste delicious in a chia pudding with nut milk for a  nutritious breakfast or dessert.  
  • Dr. Riz and I like tossing a handful of blueberries and sometimes sliced strawberries into salads. We find that they add sweetness to the salad.   
  • We snack on cherries in between meals when they are in season. We enjoy a fruit salad with berries or a tofu chocolate pudding topped with various berries. 
  • I make Dr. John McDougall's blueberry muffins recipe and have a  muffin in the morning if I don't have oatmeal.  
  • Dr. Michael Greger has a delicious cranberry recipe to replace the less nutritious cranberry juice. One handful of fresh or frozen cranberries, two cups of water, and eight teaspoons of erythritol. Add all the ingredients to a blender and blend at high speed. Pour over ice and serve. This recipe has 25 times fewer calories and at least eight times more phytonutrients than typical cranberry juice for an extra boost.

Organic VS Conventionally Grown Berries 

Finally, let's talk about the Dirty Dozen. The Environmental Working Group's mission is simple to empower you with breakthrough research to make informed choices and live a healthy life in a healthy environment. 

More than 70% of non-organic fresh produce sold in the United States contains residues of potentially harmful pesticides. If you check out their website, ewg.org, you will see their shoppers' guide to pesticides in produce. Every year they come out with what they call the Dirty Dozen list. These are the 12 foods that have the highest levels of pesticides.  

On this list, you will find strawberries, grapes, and cherries. These are the fruits that I typically try to purchase organic when possible. I will pay about  50 cents or more compared to conventionally grown berries.  

What does Dr. Michael Greger say about organic foods? Stroll down the produce aisle of your grocery store, and you'll see lots of food labeled organic. But what does that mean? According to the USDA, organic farming practices preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, including pesticides and antibiotics. Among those requirements, organic farmers must receive annual on-site inspections, use only USDA-approved materials, and not use genetically modified crops. Currently, 35 billion US organic retail market products receive a USDA Organic stamp.  

Let's keep in mind that organic does not mean healthy. You can now buy pesticide-free potato chips, organic jelly beans, and Oreo cookies. 

"Many are surprised to learn that a review of hundreds of studies found  that organic produce does not seem to have significantly more vitamins or  minerals." 

Organic fruits and vegetables do appear to have more polyphenol antioxidants. The synthetic nitrogen fertilizer seems to divert the conventionally grown plant to grow rather than defend.  

The most significant concern about conventionally grown produce is pesticide residues. People not only tend to overestimate the nutritional benefit of organic food, but they also overestimate the risks of pesticides.

"Surveys have found that many consumers erroneously believe that as many people die from pesticide residues on conventional food as they do  from automobile accidents or that eating non-organic produce is almost as  bad as smoking a daily pack of cigarettes."  

This thinking is dangerous as it could decrease overall fruit and vegetable consumption. A study suggests that if half of Americans ate one more serving of produce daily, we'd prevent close to 20,000 people from becoming cancer patients yearly. 

I find it fascinating that some people avoid eating fruits and vegetables out of concern for pesticides or oxalates in some green leafy vegetables. I've never heard anyone express concern about whether the produce in their hamburgers is organic. One does not typically question how saturated fat, preservatives, chemicals, cooking practices, and hygienic practices affect the nutritional value of foods cooked outside the home. I am referring to food cooked in restaurants, fast food joints, and foods delivered to your home.  

Consider buying organic if you are purchasing from the dirty dozen list. If organic is not an option, give your foods a good rinse and enjoy the health benefits. After all, the cost of eating healthy can prevent you from facing higher costs associated with health issues.  

Five reasons to eat berries daily: 

  1. Reduce the risk of heart attack  
  2. Lower blood pressure. Wild blueberries boost vascular health by helping to improve blood circulation.  
  3. Berries help prevent cancer by increasing natural killer cells, NK cells, like tiny soldiers constantly scanning the body for invaders such as viruses and tumors that destroy them. 
  4. Improve insulin sensitivity  
  5. Blueberries are good for our brains.  

Add them to your oatmeal, salads, and desserts.  

Okay, my friends. Stay tuned for next Tuesday's episode with my guest Bill Daniels. Bill will share how he faced a health crisis and turned his life around. He has returned to the things he loves, such as singing in the choir.  

Next week, I will be at the Podcast Movement, a conference supporting podcasters. I will tell you all about it the following week.  

Stay healthy, my friends, and thanks for listening. If you are interested in my blueberry muffins recipe, send me a message on my website or on  Instagram. healthylifestylesolutions.org or IG @maya_hls_podcast.