Berries - A fun and tasty way to contribute to your 5-a-day
The food we eat plays a significant role in our health. A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is important because they are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre and are also low in fat and salt.
The health benefits of fruit and vegetables were acknowledged in a report by the World Health Organisation in 2003. One of the conclusions of this report is that in order to keep healthy and protect against a range of chronic and degenerative diseases we should be eating at least 400g of a range of fruits and vegetables each day, or in other words 5 portions (80g) of different fruits or vegetables.
How much is a portion of berries?
The following approximate amounts should give around an 80 g portion of each berry.
Raspberries - 2 handfuls
Blueberries - 2 handfuls
Strawberries - 7 medium-sized strawberries
Redcurrants - 4 heaped tablespoons
Gooseberries - 1 handful
What’s special about berries?
The delicate flavours and aromas of fresh berries make them a particularly pleasurable way to contribute to your 400g a day. Along with their great taste they are in general a great source of:
- Antioxidant vitamins (especially vitamin C)
- Phenolic compounds
- Potassium and other minerals
- Fibre - both soluble and insoluble
They are also low in:
- Energy - depending on type of berry (berries are approximately 80-90% water)
Most of the energy content of berries comes from the presence of various sugars, particularly fructose and generally ranges from 4 - 10% depending on type of berry.
The fat content of berries is mainly held in the seeds and although it is very low (<1%) it is of high quality as it consists of essential health promoting fatty acids.
Berries are rich in both soluble and insoluble fibres, the concentrations of each varying in the different berries, but generally being at least 3g per 100kcal worth of berries. Soluble fibres, such as pectin, are known to have a positive balancing effect on cholesterol levels and sugar metabolism. Insoluble fibre improves the action of the intestines.
Berries contain a wide range of minerals in small amounts such as potassium, zinc and magnesium.
Berries are excellent sources of natural antioxidants such as Vitamins C (L-ascorbic acid) A and E and polyphenols.
Unlike most other mammals humans do not manufacture their own Vitamin C, so it needs to be included regularly in the diet. Vitamin C, in addition to its role as a cofactor in several enzymatic reactions within the body, acts as an antioxidant both on its own and in combination with other plant antioxidants, combating oxidative stress within the body and thus helping to protect against many diseases such as certain cancers, coronary heart disease and degenerative aspects of ageing.
Berries are rich in phenolic compounds such as flavenoids (flavenols and anthocyanins), easily providing 100mg/100g. Although these compounds are not of nutritive value they have been implicated in a wide range of potential health benefits and shown to possess properties that are:
Amongst many other effects, berry polyphenols have been shown to have potential for the inhibition of starch and fat digestion. All these properties and the potential health benefits with respect to type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular health, neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers means that they are the subject of much research throughout the world.
Watch this space!