Like most of us, Dr. Jana Morse loves dessert. It’s natural, she says. “We enjoy the taste of sweet things, and for good reason,” says Morse, an internal medicine specialist at PartnerMD in Greenville. “Sugar is associated with the things our bodies crave in nature – like fruit.”
That’s why, especially in the summer months, she loves to kick back after a meal with a big bowl of berries. In addition to being ripe, juicy and delicious, summer berries like raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries have been found to fight inflammation, enhance DNA repair, prevent metabolic diseases like diabetes and even fight cancer.
Morse says it’s not just one aspect of berries but the entire package that makes them such a health bonanza. “It’s the fiber, the antioxidants, the vitamins and minerals,” she says. The high surface area of berries makes them even more healthy than many other fruits. “The nutrients are under the skin, and there is a lot of skin for the volume of the berry.”
The colors of the berries showcase their healthful properties. The pigments that give them their bright hues are known as anthocyanins, flavonoids that some studies say protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Additional research shows a positive relationship between the flavonoids in berries and memory improvement, eye health, and blood pressure. Each type has its own unique flavor and its own nutritional properties – though Morse says they are all nutritional powerhouses.
The ideal way to get berries is to plant some in your yard or in a pot, and then simply grab some and eat them. If that’s not possible, locally grown berries from a farmer’s market are next best, though she says any berries are better than none, whether they are flown to your grocery store from another continent or found bagged in the frozen foods aisle. Even if the fruits lose some of their potency in route, they still beat most other foods for health benefits.
While mulberries are not often seen in stores – they don’t keep as well and are therefore less profitable to sell – they also offer a multitude of health benefits and can be easily grown in most yards. “They grow wild and mine are everywhere,” she says. “They may protect your heart and your liver.”
Elderberries have to be cooked, as they can be toxic when raw, but Morse says a simple steam or boil can create a syrup that has been shown to reduce the duration of flu by several days.
One more benefit that researchers are just beginning to understand is the value of berries as a prebiotic, which can lead to a healthier digestive system. Morse explains that the bacteria in our digestive tracts that help break down the food we eat thrive on certain foods – in particular, berries.
The best part, she says, is how delicious they are. While people who typically eat cookies and candy may need to adjust, after a few days or weeks, berries can satisfy most any sweet tooth – without the need for any whipped cream or sugar sprinkled on top.
Morse says her favorite way to eat berries is plain, in a bowl, but she sometimes whips them up into simple smoothie she enjoys for breakfast on the way to work.
Dr. Morse’s health-boosting smoothie
Put half a banana into a blender along with a handful of fresh berries – any kind. Add almond milk (or any milk you have on hand) and a big handful of spinach. Add a couple of scoops of protein powder (her favorite: defatted peanut powder), blend and enjoy.