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Dietitians Dish: Berries make nutrient-packed snack

By By Lindsey Adams
July 8, 2014 at 2:08 a.m.

Linsay Adams

It's no secret that fruits are packed with healthy benefits. While it's a good idea to mix up your fruit intake to get the variety of nutrients each different one contains, berries are one of my personal favorites - not only for health reasons but also because of their great taste.

Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and cranberries are all little nutrient-packed powerhouses. These berries contain disease-fighting antioxidants; vitamins A, C and E; folic acid; calcium; selenium; beta-sitosterol; ellagic and ferulic acids; flavonols and anthocyanins.

Additionally, they are low in calories and are comprised of a variety of minerals, including potassium, calcium, selenium, iron, zinc and magnesium. One cup of berries contains about 50 to 75 calories. The antioxidants contained in tiny fruits are thought to be especially beneficial because of their disease-fighting properties that protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

Health problems, such as heart disease, macular degeneration, diabetes and cancer, are all conditions in which oxidative damage plays a role; and therefore, antioxidants may help prevent them. Berries may also help prevent oxidative stress to the brain that contributes to age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

When shopping for berries, choose bright, firm, dry and evenly colored berries. Be sure to avoid choosing yellow or green strawberries because they will not ripen further after harvest. Also, stay away from blueberries that are green or blackberries that are red, which means they have not yet reached their peak ripeness.

The skin of berries absorbs water, which may cause a mushy, less flavorful fruit, so do not wash the berries until you are ready to eat them. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are best kept at higher humidity with lower air circulation at the coldest location in your refrigerator, which is typically the produce drawer.

If your refrigerator does not have a produce drawer, storing them in a sealed container will work adequately. Blackberries should be kept uncovered. Unfrozen, berries can be kept for about one week in the refrigerator, but you will receive the most nutrients if eaten within the first three days.

If you would like to save your berries for later use, place unwashed berries in a single layer on a sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap and place in a freezer until frozen - typically one to two hours.

Then, put the berries into a plastic freezer bag or container and the berries can be stored for up to a year. If freezing the berries, try to do so within the first three days of harvest to capture the most nutrients possible.

To reap the benefits of berries, try making berry smoothies, mixing berries with a bowl of cereal or yogurt, assembling berry kabobs or tossing them into a salad for an added blast of flavor. Of course, berries also taste great by themselves - even frozen.

You can also enjoy a fun, family activity by locating a berry farm, where you can pick your own berries.

Take advantage of berry season, and enjoy a tasty, low-calorie, nutrient-rich treat.

Lindsay Adams is a registered dietitian with. DeTar Healthcare Systems. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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