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Published July 10, 2009, 12:00 AM

Berries offer bountiful health benefits

“Mom, my strawberries are growing. Come and see them!” my 11-year-old told me one day this past spring.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, my strawberries are growing. Come and see them!” my 11-year-old told me one day this past spring.

I followed her outside and sure enough, the free plant she had received at a 4-H gardening meeting had spread and 42 berries were nestled in the foliage.

We counted the berries. Twice.

As summer has progressed, she has watched her berries ripen, protected them from birds with netting and has happily eaten her berries. She even shared a naturally sweet berry or two with me.

I felt as though she was sharing some prized candy with me.

Whether you grow them, pick them at a “pick-your-own” patch or in the wild, or buy them at grocery stores or farmers markets, berries are good for your health.

Berries are a colorful addition to our plates and contribute cancer-fighting antioxidants, which protect our cells from damage. Blue and red berries get their color from “anthocyanins,” which are natural pigments that act as antioxidants.

Eating a colorful, antioxidant-rich diet may reduce our risk of certain types of cancer and heart disease. In a 2004 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, researchers tested more than 100 commonly eaten foods. The top 11 foods in terms of antioxidant capacity included wild and cultivated blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Naturally sweet berries are a dieter’s dream, too. A cup of blueberries has about 85 calories and a cup of strawberries just 56 calories. Berries provide vitamin C, folate (a B vitamin) and fiber.

Besides helping protect us from cancer and heart disease, berries may protect our brain, too. In studies with mice, blueberry extracts have shown promise in reversing age-related declines in memory.

You may have seen dietary supplements that promise you can skip your fruits and/or veggies and opt for a “fruit and veggie pill” instead. Don’t believe all the dietary supplement claims, though. Fruits and vegetables are complex mixtures of natural chemicals. Nutrition experts recommend enjoying the whole food instead of an isolated substance.

Enjoy more tasty, colorful berries with these tips:

- Wash berries right before eating and clean strawberries with the stem intact.

- Sprinkle some berries on your breakfast cereal.

- No time for breakfast? Place some frozen berries and yogurt in a blender, blend one minute, pour in a cup and be on your way.

- Make a fresh fruit salsa with strawberries, apples and cilantro. Serve as a side dish with grilled fish.

- Make a snack mix with your favorite whole-grain cereal and dried cranberries and blueberries.

- Add blackberries and strawberries to salad greens, such as spinach or romaine.

- Make a parfait by layering berries and fat-free vanilla or lemon yogurt in a glass.

- If you buy extra berries, freeze some to enjoy later. Wash them, blot with a paper towel, lay them in a single layer on a tray, freeze for an hour or two and package in freezer bags labeled with the date.

Wouldn’t some berries be a tasty snack right now? Try this smoothie for a quick breakfast or snack. For more information and recipes, visit www.

Blueberry Smoothie

¾ cup unsweetened 100 percent orange or pineapple juice

½ cup fruit-flavored low-fat yogurt

1 cup frozen, unsweetened blueberries

Blend all ingredients well in a blender. Serve.

Makes one serving. Each serving has 250 calories, 2.5 grams (g) of fat, 51 g of carbohydrate, 5 g of fiber, 6 g of protein and 95 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.