Exotic superfoods like acai and goji berries seem to be all the rage these days. But with all the focus on the latest trendy berry, it’s easy to forget the superhero potential of many of the common berries that may be growing right in our own backyards. And we want to remedy that. So come with us as we rediscover some of these neglected common berries and reveal why you don’t have to be trendy to be a superfood.
Berries as Superfoods
Berries may be super sweet or have a tart taste that makes you pucker, but one thing they all have in common is major health benefits. And that’s due to their high levels of polyphenols. These powerful plant chemicals help combat free radicals, which cause oxidative damage and can lead to disease-causing inflammation.
In fact, a number of conditions that result in illness and death each year in the United States can be directly linked to chronic inflammation, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
So anything we can do to combat free radicals and the damage they cause naturally increases our health and well-being. And plant foods, including common berries, are the richest sources of free radical–scavenging antioxidants.
But, believe it or not, the polyphenols in berries do much more than act as antioxidants. They also regulate the enzymes that help the body rid itself of toxic chemicals and carcinogens, and they can even prevent the growth of cancerous tumors and trigger cancer cell death.
And these potent polyphenols are found in all berries, even the decidedly not trendy common berries. To give you an extra taste of what we’re talking about, let’s take a look at seven of our favorite common berries.
7 Common Berries We Think Are Just Super
When it comes to edible berries, from wild blackberries to backyard strawberries, we think they’re all superstars. Whether you eat them right off the vine, bramble, or tree or put them in mouthwatering cobblers, pies, smoothies, or muffins, luscious ripe berries are simply the bee’s knees.
If you’re looking for vitamins, strawberries can’t be beat. Chock-full of vitamins B6, E, and K, strawberries are also loaded with folate, thiamine, niacin, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese. What’s more, strawberries are packed with so much vitamin C that just 1 cup contains 150% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
And like all berries, strawberries are excellent sources of polyphenols, especially flavonoids called anthocyanins, which make up more than 75% of their total phenolic content. Anthocyanins have been found in studies to possess potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-cancer, and hepatoprotective properties.
Unlike strawberries, raspberries aren’t as replete in vitamin C, but they’re jam-packed with vitamins E and K as well as folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese. They’re also one of the richest fruit sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
And whether you prefer black or red raspberries, you also get a healthy dose of both fiber (32% of the RDA in just 1 cup) and polyphenols, especially anthocyanins, ellagitannins, and ellagic acid.
Along with the health benefits of anthocyanins, ellagitannins and ellagic acid have been shown in studies to protect the body against the development of many chronic diseases, including cancer.
Blueberries are rich in vitamins C and E as well as manganese and, like raspberries, are one of the best fruit sources of omega-3 fatty acids. And when it comes to polyphenols, blueberries are definitely no slouch. In fact, blueberries contain some of the highest levels of polyphenols of any berry.
They’ve also been found in studies to protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation and promote synaptic plasticity and cell growth. What’s more, blueberries have been shown in studies to be effective against a wide range of cancers, including mouth, throat, lung, and breast cancers.
Blackberries contain an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, E, and K as well as niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese. And when it comes to essential fatty acids, blackberries are at the top of the list.
Blackberries are also high in the polyphenols gallic acid, rutin, and ellagic acid. In fact, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that looked at the antioxidant content of 50 different types of foods found that blackberries contained more antioxidants per serving than any other food tested.
Autumn in North America means cranberry season and with it Thanksgiving favorites like cranberry sauce, cranberry stuffing, and cranberry bread. And in a season overflowing with sweet treats of all descriptions, it’s nice to know that cranberries are there to support us with a healthy dose of plant nutrition.
Like other berries, cranberries are good sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. But these tart red berries are perhaps best known for their ability to reduce urinary tract infections.
This is primarily due to polyphenols called proanthocyanidins, which have been found to inhibit the ability of Escherichia coli to adhere to the urinary tract. Several studies, including one published in the World Journal of Urology, have demonstrated that cranberries significantly reduce the adherence of various strains of E. coli, thus helping to prevent infections of the urinary tract.
Cranberries have also been found to exert an antibacterial effect against Helicobacter pylori—the main cause of peptic ulcers. A study in the journal Helicobacter found that regular consumption of cranberry juice can suppress the growth of H. pylori and reduce the risk of gastric ulcers and gastric cancer.
Elderberries are dark purple to black berries that grow wild all over North America. In fact, you may even have some growing in your own backyard.
Elderberries are a great source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and B6 as well as thiamine, iron, phosphorus, and potassium. Like other red, blue, and purple berries, elderberries are also a rich source of anthocyanins—and a mere 1 cup contains a whopping 41% of the RDA of fiber!
You’re probably familiar with elderberries as a supplement for treating colds and flu. As it turns out, elderberries have been found in a number of studies to benefit the respiratory tract.
In fact, a recent meta-analysis published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that participants who supplemented with elderberry experienced a significant reduction in respiratory symptoms.
Mulberries—which are technically known as collective fruits—resemble elongated blackberries and have been used for centuries as both food and medicine.
Mulberries are packed with vitamins C and K as well as riboflavin, iron, magnesium, and potassium and are an important source of a number of different polyphenols, including anthocyanins, rutin, quercetin, and resveratrol.
- Rutin has been found in studies to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce arthritis pain, and inhibit the formation of blood clots.
- Quercetin is known to block the action of histamine and can even act as an antiviral and boost the effectiveness of traditional cancer treatment.
- Resveratrol has both antibacterial and antifungal properties, acts as a phytoestrogen, protects the brain and heart from damage due to free radicals, and has the ability to inhibit all stages of cancer.
Best Berries for Health? Take Your Pick
So what are the best berries for health? We think it matters less which berries you choose and more that you just eat more berries. But if you’re mulling over the many types of berries to choose from, don’t forget to look for these at your local farmers market:
|Black raspberries||Red currants|
|White currants||Juniper berry|
As you can see, there’s more to the wide world of berries than just exotics like goji and acai berries. And many of these healthy fruits grow as wild berries you can gather yourself as you picnic in the park or stroll through field and forest.
So from Maine to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and from southern swamps to the Arctic tundra, the next time you have a yen for berries, don’t overlook the common berries—there’s really nothing common about them!