Plump blueberries swathed in cream, a ripe blackberry just picked from the vine or fresh strawberries dressed with a light dusting of sugar sound like incredibly decadent, slightly naughty desserts. After all, a bite this sweet couldn’t possibly be healthy for you, right?
Fortunately, these tiny little jewels aren’t forbidden snacks. They’re astoundingly healthy treats whose sweet flavor belies their nutritional superpowers. Low in calories and high in value, you’ll find few diets that don’t suggest including these nourishing delights in varying serving sizes. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are endorsed by scores of dietitians, physicians and other proponents of health.
Dr. Ann G. Kulze, bestselling author of “Dr. Ann’s 10 Step Diet” and “Dr. Ann’s Eat Right for Life” series has been an enthusiastic advocate of berries since the beginning of her venture into medicine. She graduated as the valedictorian of her class with a degree in food science and human nutrition from Clemson University and earned her doctorate in medicine from the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Kulze emphatically believes that nutrition is the cornerstone of wellness and that berries are important building blocks in that foundation.
“Berries are in a league of their own,” Dr. Kulze said. “They contain very high concentrations of a category of phytochemicals, nutrients and bioactive plant compounds that we now know have enormous benefits when we consume them.”
According to Dr. Kulze, one of the most appealing attributes of berries of any type is that their flavor can satisfy a sweet tooth while also satiating an appetite. Sweet, but high in fiber, berries are a perfect snack.
“All fruit is OK, but mitigating quick rises in blood glucose is good for everyone, and it’s especially good for metabolically challenged people,” Dr. Kulze shared. “Relative to many other fruits, berries produce the lowest glycemic response because of their fiber content.”
Eating berries, which are high in vitamin C, can also contribute to a healthy glow.
Vitamin C is, of course, is associated with improved immune function, but it also contributes to your looks!,” Dr. Kulze laughed. “Vitamin C is important for a wide array of health issues, but it’s really good for connective tissue and pretty, healthy skin.”
As if these delicious fruits weren’t working hard enough, they’re loaded with potassium, which, according to Kulze, is an excellent mineral for nerve support and muscle function. There’s another reason she champions the potassium factor: It helps reduce the negative impacts of a sodium-laden diet.
“So many people eat crazy amounts of sodium. The potassium in these fruits helps mitigate that sodium intake,” Dr. Kulze explained.
Perhaps one of the most important factors that contribute to Dr. Kulze’s campaign for berry consumption are the beneficial phytochemicals, such as anthocyanin, packed into these sweet delights.
“The anthocyanins that give berries their red and blue hues have some of the most potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties found in our food. They’re unique in that they bring a “1-2 punch” by fighting off oxidation and calming inflammation,” Dr. Kulze commented. “And we want that, since oxidation and inflammation are primary drivers of disease.”
Anthocyanins also aid in gut health.
“The anthocyanins are in a larger family of phytochemicals called polyphenols. They’re famous for stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria and at the same time thwarting growth of harmful gut bacteria. As we now know, the gut, or “microbiome,” is running the show. It’s the COO of our body’s most important process,” Dr. Kulze said.
The polyphenols Dr. Kulze referenced also protect us from aging faster than we should.
“Polyphenols have been shown to favorably modulate our longevity pathways,” Dr. Kulze said. “One of the reasons we get sick is because our cells are aging. If we can slow that aging process, we can significantly impact the progression of disease.”
If you think the heroics of berries end here, think again.
“Anthocyanins and polyphenols are also unique because they can directly cross the blood-brain barrier,” Dr. Kulze remarked. “Not many things can cross it, but they can. They’ve also been shown to turn on a gene called BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It’s like MiracleGro for the brain and allows us to forge healthy, high-quality brain connections. In animal studies, we’re seeing that berries can reverse signs of aging in the brain. That’s amazing and a very special quality these fruits have.”
So the next time you want to cure your sweet tooth with fruit, try a serving of berries. It doesn’t matter what kind, as Dr. Kulze stated: “All berries pack a whopping, anti-inflammatory punch.”
The Charleston area has several options for purchasing locally grown berries, whether you buy them by the pint or pick them yourselves. However, Dr. Kulze has some advice for those craving berries when they’re out of season.
“Frozen berries are just as good as fresh berries. They’re allowed to grow to peak ripeness, when there is a huge uptick in the health value of the fruit. The flash freeze is quick and doesn’t damage the fruit,” Dr. Kulze explained. “You can buy them in bulk and have them all year-round.”
Farms Offering Pre-Picked or Pick Your Own Berries:
Ambrose Family Farm
Boone Hall Farm • boonehallfarms.com
Bugby Plantation U-Pick • Updates listed on Facebook
Newton Blueberry Farm • Updates listed on Facebook
Kings Farm Market • kingsfarmmarket.com
Meyers Blueberries • Call for availability • 843-830-0698
By Amy Gesell