A glass of berry juice or berry smoothie is packed full of antioxidants, bioactive compounds like polyphenols, minerals, ellagitannin and vitamin C; but be aware that even from home made, you will get a sugar hit.
What is a Berry?
“Look at your watch and give yourself 20 seconds to name as many berries as you can!” asks Rainbow Chef and founder of Nutrichef, Barbara Cox.
The biological definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit that usually has many seeds; it is made from a single ovary and its middle and inner layers are not distinct from each other.
No doubt you thought of blueberries and cranberries, and you may have thought of goji berries and elderberries, but I wonder if you came up with blackcurrants, cherries, grapes and tomatoes, or even dates and bananas, all of which technically are berries (cherries and dates are one-seeded berries). Perhaps even more surprisingly is that to be really strict you could remove blackberries, raspberries and strawberries from your list, as these are actually ’aggregate fruits’ that consist of a number of smaller fruits.
Berries for Health
Berries and aggregate fruits like blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are among the healthiest foods on the planet. The reason they are so amazing is that they are a great source of phytochemicals naturally occurring chemicals which help to neutralise harmful free radicals.
Free radicals are by-products of normal biochemical processes that take place in each and every one of us. They are actually utilised by the body to kill bacteria and fight inflammation, but, when they build up to excessive levels, they may begin to damage protein, DNA, cells and tissue through a process called oxidation.
Phytochemicals have an antioxidant effect that protects body cells from cancer and cardiovascular disease. The prefix phyto- actually means plant, but, given the nature of their role, these vital nutrients could just as easily be named ’fighto-chemicals’!
There are dozens of different phytochemicals, including the following ones that are particularly abundant in berries:
- Anthocyanins – found in blackcurrants, blueberries, cherries, cranberries and red currants. Also found in red / purplish vegetables like red cabbage and beetroot
- Ellagic acid – found in grapes, pomegranates, raspberries and strawberries. It is an antioxidant that reduces the effects of estrogen and may help the liver break down cancer-causing substances in the blood.
- Lycopene – found in tomatoes, it is a bright red carotene with strong antioxidant properties. Studies show that it may protect against a variety of cancers as well as cardiovascular disease. Also found in water melon and papaya.
- Pterostilbene – found in blueberries and grapes. It is similar in structure and function to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes and red wine.
- Resveratrol – found in red grapes, blueberries and pomegranates. It is believed to play a part in fighting a variety of different cancers
The ORAC League Table
Scientists have come up with a way of comparing the degree to which fruit and vegetables can protect against free radical damage in the body. It is the ORAC score, where ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity.
The left-hand side of the table below shows the ORAC scores for a variety of berries. The scores for various vegetables on the right-hand side of the table show that berries are in general a more concentrated source of antioxidants than vegetables.
|Acai Berry||18500||Spinach (raw)||1260|
Barbara Cox’s Berry Recipes
Berries are perfect as a snack in their own right or for sprinkling onto a bowl of cereals. If you’re feeling more adventurous, why not try my smoothie, sauce or sorbet?
Mixed Berry Smoothie
- cup raspberries
- cup blueberries
- cup strawberries
- cup pitted cherries
- 1 tbsp organic blackcurrant cordial
- 2 cups filtered water
Blend all ingredients in a blender and serve chilled.
Lady in Red Cranberry Sauce
- 200g cranberries (dried)
- 1 orange (peel and juice)
- 1 cup apple juice
- Boil all ingredients together until soft (approx 10 minutes).
- Cool and then blend until smooth.
- You can add more apple juice depending on the consistency of sauce required.
This sauce is a great compliment for fish, meat and vegetables.
The Big Chill Berry Sorbet
- 1 punnet raspberries
- 1 punnet strawberries
- 1 punnet blueberries
- cup of cherry juice
- 2 cups filtered water
Blend all ingredients and freeze in ice lolly holders or in a big container. Serve in a bowl with sprigs of fresh garden mint.
Berry juices, berry smoothies and sugar
“Chris Woollams, former Oxford University Biochemist and originator of The Rainbow Diet however had a warning. “There is absolutely no doubt that mixed Berry juices are jammed pack with nourishment but people with cancer, diabetes and some other conditions need to be careful. When building programmes for people with cancer we have told them about the many benefits of berries. Apart from the above details from Barbara, the ellagitannin actually attacks cancer cells and viruses; it is also a powerful prebiotic boosting commensal bacteria and thus the immune response.
As always there is a ‘but’. For cancer patients we have always been worried about putting berries in juice or smoothie because of the high sugar content. We have recommended they avoid using berries for 15 years. In 2019, there was research that backed up our view. 100 ml of Berry smoothie provides 10.3 gm of sugar – a Coca Cola or Sprite is about 10.9 gm. A daily glass of either increases cancer risk by 18% and breast cancer risk by 23% according to the French National Institute of Health.”