NW Berries: Prolific Protectors

Washington state produces more blueberries and red raspberries than any other state in the country.   And don’t get us started about those wild blackberries growing here in Washington – it’s mind blowing how much free fruit is produced by this invasive species that takes over gardens and parks.  Our environment seems to want us to eat more berries!

All berries offer an impressive nutritional profile – jammed full of potassium, fiber, and the trace minerals copper and manganese. The wide variety of antioxidants in berries also makes them one of “the most beneficial fruits to eat for cancer prevention” according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Washington state has the highest incidence of cancer on the west coast, so we are fortunate to have these prolific protectors thriving in our gardens and local markets.  All of those wild blackberries contain cancer fighting anthocyanidins, so maybe we should stop complaining, grab some freezer bags, and embrace these prolific fruits!

STRAWBERRIES

Strawberries are the first local berry of the season, offering a welcome burst of color to locavore-ish diets. Just 1 cup of fresh strawberries provides your entire daily requirement for vitamin C and just 50 calories — an incredibly nutrient-dense fruit.

Speaking of nutrient density, I was surprised to learn that those tiny strawberry seeds also supply some essential omega-3 fatty acids.  In fact, strawberry seeds have an ideal 2:1 ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids!

Washington State University researchers have demonstrated that organic strawberries have higher levels of vitamin C, taste better, and last longer than non-organic strawberries.   Strawberries routinely end up on the annual Dirty Dozen list, so there are plenty of reasons to reach for organic.

Washington state unfortunately has a very short season for fresh strawberries – but that just helps me to appreciate them even more when they are in season, and to stock my freezer the rest of the year.

RASPBERRIES

Raspberries (and strawberries) are a good source of pectin — a soluble fiber that lowers blood cholesterol levels and supports digestive health and blood sugar regulation.

Raspberries are also great sources of vitamin C, copper, manganese, as well as dozens of phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. According to the AICR, the ellagic acid in raspberries (and blueberries) “may help prevent cancer formation,” so we’re blessed to have an abundance of these delicate berries in Washington state.  Whatcom County (in NW Washington state) produces more red raspberries than any other county in the U.S.

BLUEBERRIES

All berries are excellent sources of antioxidants, but blueberries stand out as having more antioxidants per serving than most other fruits. The dazzling blue and purple colors found in blueberries translate into equally impressive health benefits, protecting our bodies from a range of chronic diseases.

A growing body of research finds blueberries are one of the most protective foods for brain health, improving nervous system function, and preventing the cognitive decline associated with aging.

Blueberries also have a low glycemic index and the ability to inhibit angiogenesis (development of new blood vessels that fuel cancer cells), helping to explain their cancer fighting reputation.

SUGAR CONTENT?

Whenever I talk about the health benefits of berries, someone always asks about the sugar content.  It’s great that so many consumers are avoiding high sugar foods, but there is no reason to avoid berries due to their sugar content.  As I’ve written before – “it’s only the added sugars that should be minimized” in your daily diet.  The intrinsic sugars found naturally in berries are packaged with soluble fibers, water, and phytonutrients that synergistically work together to prevent spikes in your blood sugar.

According to a study reported on NutritionFacts.org, there are no health concerns seen when eating massive amounts of fruit for several months:

Seventeen people were made to eat 20 servings a day of fruit. Despite the extraordinarily high fructose content of this diet, presumably about 200 g/d—eight cans of soda worth, the investigators reported no adverse effects (and possible benefit actually) for body weight, blood pressure, and insulin and lipid levels after three to six months. More recently, Jenkins and colleagues put people on about a 20 servings of fruit a day diet for a few weeks and found no adverse effects on weight or blood pressure or triglycerides, and an astounding 38 point drop in LDL cholesterol.

BERRY TIPS

Rinse berries just before eating because berries will spoil more quickly after rinsing. Consume fresh berries within 2 to 3 days of purchase, unless you freeze them.

To freeze berries, rinse gently then allow to dry completely. Place on a cookie sheet and place directly in the freezer (this prevents clumping together). Once frozen, put them in a heavy freezer bag and keep frozen for up to a year.

Frozen berries are a year-round staple to always keep on hand for smoothies, snacking, and sauces —  essential for your cancer fighting kitchen.

NORTHWESTERN DIETS

As the lighter shares of blue highlight in the map below, cancer rates are slightly more common in NW states than other west coast regions.

newproject_2_original

Source: National Cancer Institute 

The prolificness of both wild and cultivated berries in Washington state is a great example of an iconic, abundant, local food contributing to better nutrition and health within the same “local” community.

Beyond their nutritional benefits, choosing local, Northwest berries can boost the health of the region while simultaneously boosting the (farming) economy and reducing food miles.  So many reasons to celebrate the berry season.

 

Basic Berry Smoothie

When my bananas start to get overripe, I immediately peel them and place in a ziplock bag in the freezer.  This is a perfect base for smoothies.  

-1/2 cup frozen berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or mixed berries)
-1 frozen banana
-8-12 oz apple juice (or more, as needed to blend to your desired consistency)
-optional: vanilla yogurt, hempseeds, fresh berries

Blend the frozen fruits with the apple juice.  If using fresh berries, add these to the blender first, with frozen fruit on top….if using frozen berries, add these to the blender last.

To make a smoothie “parfait” – fill your glass with alternating layers of smoothie, and yogurt, and top with sliced fresh berries.   

 

Portions of this article were also published in the Sound Consumer.

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