Berries are a staple ingredient in many of our TREK and Nakd bars here at Natural Balance Foods, and there’s a reason why – because they are filled to the brim with healthy nutrients and a plethora of benefits. In order to celebrate beautiful berries, our nutritionist Lucy-Ann is on board to offer her expertise and praises for the delicious and healthy fruit!
There is so much to sing about when it comes to berries that it’s hard to know where to start! From the vibrant colours and rich shades of reds, pinks and purples, to their concentrated nutritional benefits, berry fruits really are in a class of their own! Let’s take a look at some of the most popular…
Even though strawberries appear throughout the year, they’re still regarded as the ultimate, and even “iconic” English summertime fruit. But aside from being the perfect addition to a morning smoothie, or fruit salad, strawberries are becoming increasingly noted amongst food scientists, for their superb nutrient profile and catalogue of health benefits.
Strawberries provide us with numerous antioxidants such as vitamin C, manganese and carotenoids. Unusually for a fruit, strawberries also contain plant lignans, a class of phyto-oestrogens which are chemical compounds in various plant foods thought to benefit bone health and hormone health. Here in the UK, scientists at the Institute of Food Research (IFR) have become very interested in the cancer-fighting compounds in strawberries, in particular, a powerful antioxidant called ellagic acid. Hundreds of different varieties and colours of strawberries exist (including both wild and cultivated kinds) and all have varying levels of ellagic acid. The presence of ellagic acid and related compounds has been found to match strawberries with other health traits such as blood sugar management and improved insulin response post-meal.
Raspberries are another “sweet treat” of summer, as well as being an important fruit in the diet due to their concentrated content of essential nutrients (especially vitamin C and beneficial phytochemicals). A study published in 2012, in the Journal of Agriculture and Food chemistry, isolated two major antioxidants in raspberries - ellagitannins and anthocyanins. Red raspberry ellagitannins were found to be highly effective as “free radical scavengers”, mopping up harmful free radicals that potentially damage cells. They also showed significant antioxidant activity toward the harmful “oxidation” of human LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Laboratory studies have linked berry extracts to the prevention of cancer. The high antioxidant levels of berry extracts, along with other components of berries, all appear to play a role in halting cancer cell replication and survival. Scientists compared the effects of red raspberry extract, with vitamin C, on the potential to destroy stomach, colon, and breast cancer cells. This certainly paves the way for the much-needed human intervention studies to confirm the real-life health and disease-fighting effects of raspberries and other berries.
Our love for blueberries has grown rapidly in recent years. What were once considered “new and novel” superfoods, blueberries are now as popular on porridge as porridge itself! Loved for their taste and colour, these tiny purple berries are as much revered nowadays for their health properties and for good reason! Blueberries are a rich source of polyphenols which are potent antioxidants; it’s these plant chemicals that hold blueberries’ secret health benefits.
Studies have demonstrated a number of positive health effects of blueberries, including cardiovascular benefits, cholesterol reduction, and prevention against some cancers and reduced risk of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In addition, research published in the Journal of Nutrition, described the positive effects of higher blueberry consumption on insulin sensitivity in people at high risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Further evidence shows blueberries may also boost brainpower! A daily 500ml drink of blueberry juice was associated with improved learning and word list recall, findings of which were published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
They’re also incredibly good company to those practising sports or keeping to a good exercise routine. It appears that the antioxidant-rich extracts of blueberries may counter the detrimental effect of excessive exercise. Damage to skeletal muscle cells following exercise, was significantly reduced when exposed to doses of blueberry fruit extracts. Published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, the researchers concluded that blueberries were useful post-exercise fruits to combat muscle oxidative damage.
Whether you eat raw berries, or enjoy a chilled juice, eating cranberries is a very wise, and healthy thing to do. A diet that is generally high in fruits and vegetables is now clearly associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease, and cranberries can contribute in quite specific ways. Recent research shows that cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts vitamin C, antioxidants and other nutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases, and may even guard against dental decay.
Of particular interest are the proanthocyanidins - the most abundant flavonoids extracted from the red cranberry fruits. Proanthocyanidins have been reported to possess anti-microbial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A review paper in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry concluded that cranberry proanthocyanidins are potential healing substances in the prevention and management of periodontitis, an inflammatory disease which affects dental health.
If you prefer to drink the juice of cranberries, rather than eat the raw berries, you'll still benefit. Past research reported the effectiveness of cranberries at inhibiting the bacteria H. Pylori, which is largely responsible for the vast majority of stomach ulcers. Some more juicy news about cranberries in fighting bacterial infections surfaced in 2016. Compounds called proanthocyanidins in cranberries were shown to block the critical first step in bacterial infections. This paves the way for new antibiotic drug development, crucial in the fight against superbugs.
A bowl of fresh red cherries doesn’t usually hang around for long, and nor, unfortunately does their growing season. As such, it’s well worth making the most of cherries as soon as you see them at farmer’s markets, along the roadside, and of course in the supermarkets. Nutritional scientists would no doubt agree, and certainly if their research is anything to go by, cherries are a must-eat superfood.
Mounting evidence shows that cherries have powerful health and disease-fighting properties, and they appear to benefit the active individual too. Research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2010 described how 8 days of drinking cherry juice reduced symptoms of exercise-induced muscle pain in long distance runners. Cherries are rich in “anthocyanins”, which are responsible for the protective effects. Cherry juice also appears to benefit us as we age. Ageing is associated with an impaired capacity to resist oxidative cell damage, leading to faster ageing and disease. A study in The Journal of Nutrition found that drinking cherry juice improves our antioxidant defences when under oxidative stress.
As we now know, numerous varieties of berry fruits are known to be concentrated, rich sources of nutrients essential to health and longevity. Blackcurrants are widely considered to be the most nutritious berry.
Recent research by Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), measured the levels of antioxidants and the overall nutritional value of blackcurrants, and in the majority of cases, the blackcurrant outperformed its berry rivals. So the question is, are blackcurrants the UK’s No 1 superfruit? Well they certainly offer superior health benefits and disease protective effects. This has to be due to their very deep purple colour, which ensures a high level of anthocyanins (important disease-fighting antioxidants) that are known to guard against joint inflammation, eyestrain, kidney stones, cardiovascular disease and a host of other conditions.
For the athlete, anthocyanins in blackcurrants, and other berry fruits, also play a role in reducing muscle inflammation and promoting recovery. Blackcurrants contain over 3 times the amount of vitamin C found in other common fruits (including oranges, kiwis and blackberries) with 200mg vitamin C per 100g of fruit. They are therefore ideal for boosting the immune system, further implicating them as a perfect food for athletes in training, whose immunity is often compromised with intense training.
With all this fantastic information on berries now at your fingertips, why not dive into a punnet or two. Explore the range of Nakd and TREK bars using some of these wonderful berries right here on site. You could start with Nakd Berry Delight, TREK Cranberry Kick Chunks, Nakd Strawberry Crunch Bar and TREK Berry Burst Protein Bar.