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Dietitian's Dish: Berries bursting with benefits

July 12, 2010 at 2:12 a.m.
Updated July 13, 2010 at 2:13 a.m.

Lindsay Beall

Lindsay Beall

By Lindsay Beall

The month of July brings a lot of excitement . parades, picnics, fireworks, summer vacations and blueberries.

Yes, I said blueberries, and I am sure many of you are wondering how blueberries are related to July.

We typically associate July with Independence Day; however, in 1999, the United States Department of Agriculture deemed July as National Blueberry Month.

Now, a fruit has to be pretty important to have its own month, and the blueberry is no exception. About 90 percent of blueberries in the world are grown throughout the United States, and July just so happens to be the month in which these little fruits are at the peak of their harvest season.

More importantly, blueberries are bursting with beneficial nutrients. In particular, they contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamins A and C and fiber.

Antioxidants have gained attention lately 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.

Blueberries may also help prevent oxidative stress to the brain that contributes to age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Additionally, 1 cup of blueberries provides only about 80 calories, making it a very healthy snack.

Although the spotlight is mainly on blueberries in July, other berries, including raspberries, boysenberries, blackberries, strawberries and cranberries, are also packed with nutrients.

These berries also contain disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E and folic acid. Like blueberries, they are low in calories and are comprised of a variety of minerals including potassium, calcium, selenium, iron, zinc and magnesium.

When shopping for berries, choose bright, plump, evenly-colored berries with no soft spots. 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.

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.

Some great ways to incorporate berries into your diet include making berry smoothies, mixing berries with a bowl of cereal or yogurt, assembling berry ka-bobs or tossing them into a salad for an added blast of flavor.

So, the next time you are thinking about grabbing a handful of chips, grab a handful of berries instead, and enjoy a tasty, low-calorie, nutrient-rich treat.

Lindsay Beall has completed her dietetic internship and will take the registered dietitian exam soon. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.


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