So often, when speaking about nutrition and food, the focus can be on what to leave out, cut out, and reduce. But equally, if not more, important than focusing on what to take out is concentrating on what to add in. By shifting the focus to what we should be having more of, we escape a sense of deprival and create a sense of abundance. Emphasizing what to add in also helps to achieve a more balanced diet that is adequate in the macro- and micronutrients that our bodies need in order to thrive.
One such food that we should be adding in, increasing, and enthusiastically snacking on, especially this time of year, is berries. Berries are in season during summer, so this is the perfect time to take advantage of this sweet, tasty, nutritious, snackable fruit.
Five benefits of berries:
1. Increase Fiber
Berries are an excellent source of fiber, with half of a cup of raspberries containing four grams of dietary fiber (on a nutrition label, three grams of fiber or more is a good source). Adequate fiber intake helps to maintain digestive health, preventing constipation and other gastrointestinal problems. A diet high in fiber is also correlated with lower rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Fiber also provides prebiotics to feed the beneficial bacteria in the intestines. These healthy bacteria are indicated to be involved in many biological processes, with studies suggesting a healthy gut microbiome is correlated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, healthy body composition, and good immune function. Most Americans do not consume enough fiber, so looking for opportunities to increase fiber intake will help you meet your daily recommended intake.
2. Reduce Inflammation
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, including berries, helps to reduce inflammation in the body. The inflammatory response is an important part of the immune system function, helping to fight off infections. However, a sustained and chronic presentation of inflammation when a pathogenic invader, such as a bacterium or virus, is not present is associated with higher rates of disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Combine berries with other anti-inflammatory foods, such as leafy greens and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, to help control inflammation.
3. Protect DNA
Berries are high in antioxidants, which are compounds that neutralize free radicals in the body, preventing the free radicals from damaging cells and molecules. One molecule that free radicals may damage is DNA, and genetic mutations can result. A diet high in antioxidants helps to protect your genetic material, which in turn supports a healthy aging process and may help to prevent some cancers.
4. Support Tissue Health
The high vitamin C content of berries makes these delicious little fruits a great friend to your tissues. Vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis, which helps make up the tissues of the body, such as cartilage, bones, tendons, and skin. The vitamin C found in berries helps to keep these tissues healthy and strong and aids in wound healing.
5. Edge Out Added Sugar
Because berries are sweet and delicious all on their own, when we add them to our plate, they can help us satisfy our sweet tooth without sources of added sugar in our diet. Added sugar makes achieving a healthy weight more difficult, can cause problems with insulin resistance and irritability, and is associated with higher rates of chronic disease. Increase berries at meals and snacks to naturally edge out the added sugar in your diet.
Five ways to add more berries to your plate:
1. Add them to oatmeal
Put a sweet twist on oatmeal by throwing a handful of berries on top. Adding berries will amp up the flavor of the oatmeal without having to add sugar or other sweeteners.
2. Snack on them with unsalted nuts
Berries make a delicious and convenient snack. They travel well in a small container and are ready to eat—it couldn’t be easier! Pairing them with unsalted nuts adds some protein to the mix for a well-balanced snack.
3. Bake them for a jam substitute
Baking berries at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes creates a great jam replacement. No added sugar is needed because the berries are already sweet. Pair the berries with whole wheat toast and an unsalted nut butter for a satisfying breakfast or snack.
4. Blend them into a smoothie
Berries add delicious flavor to smoothies, and blending them into a sip-able beverage makes them all the more convenient to take on the go. Adding a simple protein powder turns it into a great post-workout smoothie. Using frozen berries gives you a nice cold smoothie without diluting the flavor with ice.
5. Add them to salad
Berries add a sweet and nutritious twist to salads. Place them on top of spinach or mixed greens, or pair them with arugula, radicchio, radishes, and a homemade balsamic vinaigrette like in our recipe of the month for June.
The benefits of berries are boundless, and they are easy to add into your life. Take advantage of these delicious in-season fruits this summer! Let us know how you’re enjoying your berries!
This month's recipe contribution comes from Louisa Paine, MAC's new Registered Dietitian!
Personalizing recipes is one of our specialties! Contact the MAC Nutrition team today.
The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your registered dietitian regarding any dietary modifications or nutrition-related questions.