Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bountiful Berries

Berries are ubiquitous in Seattle during the summertime. Blackberry bushes explode out onto the Burke Gilman trail. Large plastic buckets accompany the masses as they head into Magnuson Park. Red, blue and purple hues are ever-present at the farmers' markets.

Picture of mixed berries

Beyond the fact that berries taste so good, there are several other reasons why we should capitalize on this abundance. Berries have the highest antioxidant capacity among all fruits and vegetables. This is due to bioactive compounds called anthocyanins, which are also responsible for the color in berries.

The health benefits of antioxidants are substantial. Antioxidants neutralize "free radicals" in the body. Free radicals are destructive molecules that can damage cells and other structures in the body. Damaged cells make us more susceptible to inflammation and chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

Cooking berries may also increase their antioxidant potential so there's no need to hesitate on the baked berry cobbler. In addition to antioxidant capacity, berries are also collectively high in several other nutrients, such as vitamin C, folate, potassium and beta carotene, that are critical for proper immune function, heart health and vision.

Berries are sweet and portable and can be added to your average breakfast cereals and desserts. They also make a delicious, low calorie snack. If you're more ambitious and want to enjoy the benefits of these nutrient powerhouses in the fall and winter, you might transform them into jam.

Below is a recipe for a simple summertime berry-rich beverage:

Berrylicious Smoothie

3/4 cup milk (rice, soy, nut or cow)
3/4 cup fresh blueberries, blackberries or strawberries, chilled or frozen
2 medium bananas, chilled
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until thick. Serve in your favorite glass.

Serves: 1
Prep time: 5 minutes

- Genevieve Sherrow, Candidate, Master of Science in Nutrition, and Elizabeth Kirk, PhD, Core Faculty, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science, Bastyr University

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