What is it about a vibrant bowl of berries with a drizzle of yoghurt or cream that makes you feel happy?
These small, soft, fleshy, colourful, juicy, edible fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. They are packed with disease fighting nutrients. Their tastes range through from very sweet to sour and their colours go right across the colour spectrum.
Berries are seasonal, so they are not naturally available all year round. It is best to buy them in season. This applies to all fruits and vegetables. One reason is that they have naturally ripened so are fresher and tastier and more nutritious. Another reason is that they will be in abundance, so they are cheaper.
Although it is convenient to have seasonal fruits all year round, the time spent importing the produce and transporting it to the retail stores whilst trying to maintain the cold chain to prevent them from ripening too quickly lowers the quality but also increases the price and the impact on the environment.
Let’s face it, supporting local farmers keeps them in business but also reduces carbon emissions (pollution) as your fruit and vegetables won’t be travelling many miles to get to our shores. So, look out for your berries at local farmers and food markets or even take a day out to go berry picking with the family if you are lucky enough to have a farm close by.
That way, you can buy a variety of berries in season and freeze them so you always have them available. The easiest way to get your berry quota is to munch on a handful a day as a snack. Or add them to yoghurt, smoothies, muffin mixes or toss them into a summer salad. They can also be added to savoury dishes.
Here are a few super berries that have some added benefits so include them in your day:
Surprise! This fruit lies in the berry family. Grapes are packed with Vitamins C, K, A, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, B vitamins, fibre and antioxidants. Grapes, especially the red variety, actually help boost our immune system. The antioxidants in grapes are highest in the skin and seeds so wash the fruit thoroughly before eating to remove pesticides or consider buying organic. Grapes are also known for their heart health benefits. This is why wine drinking in moderation is approved.
Although grapes are high in sugar, they are low on the Glycaemic Index (GI), a measurement of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. But, like all sugar and carbohydrate loaded foods, limit your daily servings.
They are naturally a summer fruit but you can still buy them dried throughout the year. Consider munching on a pack of raisins when the sweet tooth demands satisfaction. They are not as nutritious as when eaten fresh but are certainly better than a stodgy, sugar loaded, carbohydrate snack. Try making your own sundried raisins. Just something to note, do limit dried fruit to a handful a day as once the fruit is dried the sugar becomes more concentrated.
This small blue to purple berry has one of the highest levels of antioxidants available in fruit and vegetables. This is the super berry of superfoods. It is not unusual to find it at the top of most health site’ lists of superfoods – if not number one, you will probably find it in the top five.
Apart from them being loaded with zinc, iron, B vitamins, potassium and vitamin K to name a few, they are especially high in vitamin C. Plus, these super berries contain vitamin E which, when combined with the high antioxidant properties of this berry, make it a natural ingredient for hair and skincare products. They are also a great source of fibre which is vital for good digestion therefore contributing to gut health. These super berries don’t just assist our immune system but actually help to boost it. Apart from adding them to cocktails, smoothies, yoghurt, fruit salads, pies (and the list goes on), you can also use the fruit and the leaves to make blueberry tea. But, let the water cool slightly before adding the leaves and berries as you don’t want to destroy the nutrients with boiling water.
The berries of love. Strawberry is such a popular flavour that there is strawberry flavoured breakfast cereal, strawberry flavoured milkshake, strawberry centred chocolate, strawberry ice cream and what about strawberry scented room spray, deodorant, facemasks and more.
What is it about this heart shaped berry that makes one feel indulgent, special? Possibly, this is because the scent is known to be soothing and calming and makes us feel relaxed and happy. So it comes as no surprise, then, that there are plenty of health benefits. Strawberries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants and contain potassium, B vitamins and iron. It is a natural anti-inflammatory. Strawberries are a good source of pectin and other fibre which, apart from keeping the gut healthy, assists in lowering bad cholesterol. But on that note, dare I say, that these are berries that beg to be topped with whipped cream, or full cream yoghurt. To keep cholesterol levels down, keep that for special occasions!
I wanted to mention cranberries because this little red fruit is well known for reducing urinary tract infections. One of the reasons is that they contain properties that make it difficult for bacteria to stick to the bladder walls. These sour, tarty berries are mainly eaten dried as a snack or juiced. They are loaded with vitamins C, E, K, manganese, copper, fibre (soluble and insoluble) and antioxidants. You get the most health benefits from eating the whole berry with the skin on – but there are still benefits if you prefer drinking cranberry juice. Most of the store bought cranberry juices contain other juices, sugar and preservatives so try to buy a 100% cranberry juice and add water or soda water to it.
Of course, I have only just touched on this colourful, fantastic world of berries. There are so many others that certainly deserve mentioning – the gorgeous yellow of a fresh gooseberry, the blackberry, goji berries and mulberries.
If you feeling slightly more adventurous, pop out to your local nursery and buy an array of berry plants and grow your own. If you have little or no garden, ask your local nursery about how to grow them in pots. There are also many free tutorials online about growing your own fruits and vegetables at home. There is something very satisfying about eating the ‘fruits’ of a seedling that you nurtured from seed/seedling to full grown plant. It just tastes that much better!