Nature’s Powerhouse of Health
by Cat McKenzie
Berry Works News - Fall 2000
What if you had access to a product that had a strong potential
to help you fight the onset of cancer or arrest the growth
of established malignancies? What if evidence showed it could
potentially forestall the aging process and keep your mind
sharp well into old age? What if the same substance contained
chemical compounds that could lower your risk of heart attack?
Wouldn’t you eagerly travel far and wide to locate such
and important piece of the health puzzle?
There is no need to search exotic locals for a mysterious
herb or ask for a wonder drug at your pharmacy. Look no further
than your corner grocery store or your back field for this
miracle food – it’s berries. The same berries
you’re used to seeing in your morning muffin or in the
slice of pie at dinner are capable of providing nutrients
that can improve your health and the quality of your life
for years to come.
Aspects of Nutraceuticals
Scientific studies are reporting new information on the
phytochemical and nutraceutical properties of berries every
day. The term nutraceutical was first coined by the Foundation
for Innovation in Medicine in 1989 to name the rapidly growing
area of biomedical research which links nutrition and health.
“A nutraceutical can be defined as any substance that
may be considered a food or part of a food and provides medical
or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment
Nutraceutical products may range from isolated nutrients
and dietary supplements, such as vitamins and herbs, to genetically
engineered “designer” foods, and include herbal
products and processed foods such as energy bars and juices.
Nutraceuticals also include whole foods such as fruits and
vegetables that contain naturally occurring phytochemicals.
From the Greek root “phyto” meaning plant, phytochemicals
are nonnutrative chemicals found in edible fruits and vegetables
that promote health and prevent chronic disease. Phytochemicals
are used by plants as a defense against pests and adverse
growing conditions. Research now suggests that these same
substances which protect plants may benefit humans, protecting
them from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer,
diabetes, and hypertension, forestalling mental aging and
perhaps fighting Alzheimer’s Disease. One class of phytochemicals
is phenolic compounds. Two main classes of dietary phenolics
are flavonoids and phenolic acids.
Anthocyanins – One Piece of the Puzzle
are part of the flavonoid family; they give blackberries their
characteristic blue color. The antioxidant characteristics
of fruits appear to be due largely to the anthocyanins. The
darker, more deeply red and blue colored fruit, usually have
the highest antioxident values. We have all heard about the
importance of antioxidants in forestalling the aging process.
Just as your metal saw left out in the elements rusts due
to oxidation, your body deteriorates due to the effects of
oxidation. Antioxidents fight the process of aging by fighting
off the diseases associated with old age. Antioxidants neutralize
free radicals, which can damage DNA molecules and lead to
cancer. They also counteract environmental carcinogens, protect
against cardiovascular disease, fight sun damage to skin and
may thwart the effects of Alzheimer’s and other age
related disorders. Blackberries and raspberries are among
the top ten foods containing the highest antioxidant levels.
Eating even modest amounts of these berries, just one cup
a day, can provide your body with the highest daily intake
of antioxidants recommended by authorities. Antioxidant levels
are measured in ORAC numbers.
ORAC VALUES OF BERRIES
by Dr. Jim Joseph, at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition
Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, suggest
that consuming fruits and vegetables with a high ORAC value
may slow the aging process in both body and brain. ORAC, short
for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, is a measure of the
ability of foods, blood plasma and just about any substance
to “sponge up” oxygen free radicals. Oxygen free
radicals are the harmful by products formed through the body’s
metabolism, free radicals damage cells and initiate carcinogenesis,
which is the development of cancerous cells. Research has
shown that antioxidants work best when combined and that the
presence of fiber and other plant compounds may provide additional
health benefits. Consequently it is recommended that you get
most of your antioxidants from your diet rather than relying
on supplements. Measured in ORAC units, blackberries have
2400 units per 100 grams, raspberries 1220, and blueberries
2400 . Compare these numbers with the much touted antioxidant
abilities of broccoli at 980 and you’ll find that berries
carry their own sweet rewards.
Berries are extremely high in another phenolic compound,
ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is a phenolic acid phytochemical.
It works as a potent anti-carcinogen by binding cancer-causing
chemicals found in the body and making them inactive. Ellagic
acid is found in many fruits and vegetables, but levels are
about five or six times higher in raspberries and blackberries
than those in apples, pears and plums. Ellagic acid may well
provide yet another piece of the anti-aging puzzle. Research
by Dr. Daniel Nixon, president of the American Health Foundation
at the Hollings Cancer Center of South Carolina, indicates
that the ellagic acid in red raspberries may prevent several
types of cancer by inhibiting the development of cancer cells,
and arresting the growth of cancer in persons with a genetic
predisposition for the disease. In a 30 week study, rats fed
a diet consisting of 5% whole freeze dried raspberries had
39% fewer tumors than rats not fed the berries, while those
fed a 10% raspberry diet had 49% fewer tumors.
Tests indicate that ellagic acid is specifically effective
on colon, cervical, breast and pancreatic cancer cells. Studies
on ellagic acid indicate it may prevent cancer growth and
may halt the development of pre-invasive cancerous growths.
Cancers take years, even decades to go from normal to invasive
cell growth. Dr. Nixon estimates that 20 million Americans
are in this gap area, between normal cell growth and cancer.
Using the results of this research each of us can make an
informed choice to eat more of the types of food shown to
be beneficial to health, and lessen our chances of proceeding
from this gap area to advanced stages of disease. Statistics
show that Americans consume less fruits and vegetables than
are recommended for overall health. Armed with the knowledge
that certain foods provide more advantage to our health than
others do, we can protect our bodies through sensible eating.
Salicylates, used to make aspirin, are found in many fruits
and vegetables, particularly berries. Until recently it was
not known if dietary salicylates could be absorbed by the
body. New research shows that eating fruits and vegetables
may boost blood levels of salicylic acids. Studies are presently
being conducted at the National Center for Health Statistics
in Hyattsville, Maryland, to determine if salicylates in our
diet can prevent heart attacks. According to Dennis Sprecter,
MD, and Section Head of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in
Ohio, “This is worth paying more attention to.”
Fresh vs. Processed Berries: Is There a Nutritional Difference?
While fresh berries are delicious, consumers have access
to them only 2 months of the year. Fortunately, berries are
available year round in many forms, including IQF (individually
quickfrozen), pureed, canned and dried. You may ask if processing
such as cooking or freezing berries affect the phytochemical
properties they contain. The answer is a resounding no! Dr.
Jim Joseph, of Tufts University conducted studies to determine
the effects of storage time and temperature on the anthocyanins,
phenolics and vitamin C content and ORAC of strawberries,
raspberries, and blueberries. Results indicate that with ambient
or slightly higher than ambient temperature, the phenolic
and anthocyanin content of raspberries increased when stored
at 0 degrees. In addition the ORAC value of berries also increased.
In laymen’s terms, you can freeze them, cook them or
dry them and berries retain or increase many of the nutritional
and phytochemical properties that they have when fresh.
Yes ,You Are What You Eat
All of the interest in nutraceuticals on the part of scientists,
health professionals and consumers largely stems from U.S.
health statistics. The fact is, what we eat is implicated
in six of the ten leading causes of death in the United States.
(Heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, atherosclerosis,
and liver disease) . Nutritionists have long believed that
a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes
protects against disease and enhances overall health. The
recent discovery and identification of phytochemicals in fruits
and vegetables statistically supports this belief. Although
there is active research focusing on isolating the specific
components of these phytochemicals, it is important to remember
that it may not be a single ingredient but rather a combination
of phytochemicals that give this health benefit. Eating the
whole fruit will guarantee that you will miss none of the
protection that these whole foods offer.
As scientists continue to study the links between what we
eat and our health, they are documenting berries as one of
the most significant foods for improving and maintaining a
strong body. Sweet and succulent, one cup or more of berries
can be a joyful addition into our daily diet. A few berries
in yogurt, or a muffin, or perhaps a berry smoothie will provide
your daily amount of anti oxidants and satisfy your sweet
tooth. By eating the whole berry you guarantee that you will
be getting all the ellagic acid, anthocyanins and vitamin
C you need, combined with the fiber and other nutrients that
will enable these phytochemicals to do their work. And most
importantly, while you are fueling your body and protecting
against disease, you will be enjoying a natural and delicious