Berries — so berry good for your overall health

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, May 21, 2011

Diet is the single most important factor in cancer prevention according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death, only exceeded by heart disease in America.

The way to eat to prevent cancer, as well as heart disease is very similar – by building the base of your diet around plant foods.  Fruits and vegetables are packed with a combination of powerful phytochemicals, meaning natural plant chemicals.  Some phytochemicals are responsible for the color of a fruit or vegetable, the aroma or the flavor.  Phytochemicals are designed to protect plant cells from oxygen damage; these same chemicals protect you as well.   Antioxidants are compounds in foods which prevent tiny particles of oxygen (known as free radicals) from destroying body tissues .

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You can think of your body as an aging car with a potential for rust, which is why antioxidants are important — to prevent the “rust” from happening.    Research has shown that phytochemicals have the potential to:

• Stimulate the immune system

• Block substances we eat, drink and breathe from becoming carcinogens

• Reduce the kind of inflammation that makes cancer growth more likely

• Prevent DNA damage and help with DNA repair

• Reduce the kind of oxidative damage to cells that can spark cancer

• Slow the growth rate of cancer cells

• Trigger damaged cells to commit suicide before they can reproduce

• Help to regulate hormones

While research continues, the best bets for achieving the maximum health benefits possible include:

• Eating a varied diet high in a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans

• Favoring brightly colored or strongly flavored vegetables and fruits, which are often the best sources of phytochemicals

• Sticking to food sources — phytochemicals in supplement form may not be as easily absorbed as those from food.

As you can see from the chart indicating the top 20 antioxidant containing foods, berries are well represented making up 5 of the top 11 foods.

These are important fruits to be eating on a frequent basis.  The antioxidants found in berries include anthocyanins (which provide blue/purple coloring), flavonoids and polyphenols, which may inhibit inflammation and tumor growth; may aid immunity and boost production of detoxifying enzymes in the body.

The main goal for cancer prevention is to increase the intake of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.  A great place to take charge of your health is by optimizing the foods entering your system.

Simple Berry Shortcake

Serves 10 (1/2 muffin, 1/2 cup sliced berry mixture and 1-2 tablespoons yogurt mixture).

All you need:

3 pounds fresh mixed berries, divided

Juice of 1 orange (about 1/3 cup)

Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)

1/4 cup light agave nectar

1 (8 oz) container low-fat plain yogurt

2 tbsp vanilla extract

5 Weight Watchers blueberry muffins, halved (or other higher fiber blueberry muffin)

All you do:

1. Place 2 cups berries, orange and lemon juices and agave nectar in a blender; process until smooth. Pour all but 1/2 cup of the purée over the remaining sliced berries; set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup berry purée, yogurt and vanilla and blend well.

3.  Spoon about 1/2 cup sliced strawberry mixture over top of each muffin half. Top each with about 1-2 tablespoons yogurt mixture.

Nutrition facts per serving: 190 calories, 2g fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 10mg cholesterol, 200mg sodium, 42g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 3g protein.