Food Spotlight: Berries
When commonly used the term “berries” refers to strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, red-, white- and black-currants, while the scientific or botanical term includes grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, bananas, and chili peppers, but excludes strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. The commonly used berries are frequently eaten alone, as jams, in baked goods i.e. pies and cakes.
Berries have intense colors ranging from black to red which is a result of the presence of phytochemicals or plant pigments in their skin. Anthocyanins are responsible for the blue, purple and red coloring, but are also used as natural food pigments.
In general, berries are rich in sugars (glucose and fructose) and minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium etc), but low in calories. Another important category are the vitamins A, C and E that are classified as antioxidants. Also, berries do not contain much fats, but have high content of dietary fibers like cellulose and pectin. Berries also have antioxidants (phenolic compounds), flavonoids, tannins and food colorants like carotenoids.
Berries have good nutritional value, so eating them as part of your diet can have many benefits. Blueberries and raspberries for example contain vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese, while goji berries (native to China) contain iron. Strawberries on the other hand contain 97% of the daily recommended amount of ascorbic acid, more commonly known as vitamin C, that is an important antioxidant.
The chemical composition of berries depends on the cultivating conditions, nutrition of the plant, time of harvest, location of growth and environmental conditions.
Cranberries for example are effective in warding off urinary tract infections. Strawberries on the other hand are thought to be able to lower the blood-cholesterol levels and reduce the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) in serum. The low caloric value of berries implies that they are good for maintaining weight. Therefore, berries can help in preventing inflammation and cardiovascular disorders, but also provide prevention against various cancer types.
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