Today we can read all kind of claims about fruits: some state they are the base of a good diet and in consequence you should eat lots of them no matter what, while others point they are packed with sugars so you would better totally cut fruit consumption. Let’s talk about a special class of fruits: the berries and their polyphenols.
First things first: there is some confussion whether some fruits are berries or not. Technically speaking, berries are fruits that posess seeds and a fleshy pulp (see botanical definition of berry). Nonetheless we are considering most people’s idea of what berries are, this is fruits that share the following characteristics:
- They are small, nut-sized.
- Vivid colors, usually blue, red or black.
- Grow in wild bushes, in Spain they call them frutas del bosque which means forest fruits.
- Lower percentage of sugar and less sweetness than ‘regular’ fruits.
- High polyphenol count, mostly flavonoids.
There is some strong evidence that such polyphenols are much beneficial to human health. It has been observed that foods high in these compunds are usually consumpted in the so called Blue Zones, certain spots around the globe whose people live up to 100 years old at a much higher rate than world’s average. For instance, vegetables grown in Okinawa’s volcanic soils are rich in polyphenols, while sardinians and icarians all drink red wine on a regular basis, and Nicoya inhabitants rely on yucca which is high in polyphenols as well. Of course more research is needed to confirm the polyphenol hypothesis, but at the very least these foods appear to be good for us humans.
Back to berries, these small fruits have big quantities of polyphenols while being less sugary than most of their bigger sisters. Let’s dig a bit deeper:
Most common berries
- Strawberries have 235mg polyphenols per 100g and 6% of sugars.
- Blueberries have 560mg polyphenols per 100g and 10% of sugars.
- Raspberries have 215mg polyphenols per 100g and 4.4% of sugars.
- Blackberries have 260mg polyphenols per 100g and 4.9% of sugars.
- Chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa) are a polyphenol powerhouse. In a Finnish study analyzing 143 plants, chokeberry had the highest polyphenol concentration. Around 1700mg polyphenols per 100g. You can also take them as a superb supplement.
- Elderberries are also high in polyphenols, they have 1359mg per 100g.
- Rowanberries are an unique fruit, rowanberries have lots of organic acids on them.
Although grapes are not usually considered berries by most people, they are indeed botanical berries and they share some characteristics we mentioned above, like the size, strong color and phenolic presence. In fact grapes count on additional polyphenol classes other than flavonoids: they also have stilbenes like the known resveratrol, and tannins.
Notice how different fruits have different polyphenols. For maximum variety you want to eat at least one red and one blue toned berry, this is just an approximated, home-made rule. Normally black colored berries are just very dark blue berries.
Red wine is also worth being mentioned. Fermented grapes keep all the polyphenols and tannins from the fresh grapes, while its sugars has been converted to alcohol. Remember natural wines are healthier, so when possible go for them. We can also talk about other berry wines made out of different berries.
The great versatility of berries
Another big advantage of berries is their versatility: as they are small, you can take small quantities of them, or larger quantities if you wish, depending on your diet directrices. They are easily stored, you can freeze them and eat them off-season. You can even choose dehydrated berries, they will keep their phenolic properties because you only lose their water content. Dried berries are hence sweeter, so remember to limit their intake if you are following a diet low in sugars.
Berries fit in a wide range of dishes, you can add them to salads, mix some berries with nuts and/or muesli, or just add a handful of them in your yogurt. Possibilities are endless, and even when their price might take you back at first sight, notice how you don’t need big amounts of berries to feel satiated so they last longer and in the end you save money.
Berry consumption is a fantastic way of eating fruit with moderate amounts of sugar and high polyphenol amounts, which can bring you some health benefits and a little longer life provided you care about the other aspects of your lifestyle. While we shouldn’t forget other fruits can be equally healthy, berries are indeed a nature’s wonderful gift. Enjoy these little cuties!
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