Berries aren’t a hard sell when it comes to nutrition. The jewel-toned globes — strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, among others — are like dessert when added to yogurt, oatmeal and other meals.
The good news is that those sweet-tasting fruits are good for you.
Berries’ bright hue is just one indication of their nutrient-rich flesh, says Kristine Duncan, a registered dietician who teaches at Skagit Valley College.
Duncan also blogs at veggirlrd.com, teaches wellness classes for employers, and provides nutritional analysis for cookbook authors.
Whatcom County is blessed with the perfect maritime weather for raising many varieties of berries, and continues to be the top raspberry-producing county in the country. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries also grow locally.
Duncan shared how and why berries should be a part of people’s diet.
Berries are an easy way to add fiber to your daily diet. Raspberries and blackberries have up to eight grams of fiber per cup, much of that from the seeds. Strawberries and blueberries have three to four grams per cup.
An average adult should consume 25 to 38 grams of fiber a day, depending on their gender and size, but most Americans fall far short, averaging just 15 grams a day.
Fiber helps with digestive issues, lowers cholesterol, regulates blood sugar, and fills you up if you’re dieting. A cup of berries with breakfast, or as a snack, is a great start to getting your daily fiber.
Berries are high in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanin, a type of phytochemical that is shown to increase cognitive function and reduce the risk of cancer.
A recent study published by the National Institutes of Health showed that eating berries improves heart health. People in the study who benefited included patients with metabolic risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The health benefits were seen in all forms of berries, including fresh, frozen, juiced and freeze-dried.
Who should not eat berries
There aren’t many people who should avoid berries, but Duncan says diabetics should ask their doctor about the amount of berries they eat, because it could affect the amount of carbohydrates they ingest every day.
Some people with digestive issues, such as diverticulitis, might need to avoid or limit the berries they eat, especially ones that have a lot of seeds, such as raspberries and blackberries. Seeds can cause the pockets in the digestive track resulting from diverticulitis to become inflamed.
Where to find local berries
Fresh berries picked at their peak of ripeness taste best. To find local berry farms, check out the Whatcom County Food and Farm Finder, online at sustainableconnections.org.
Duncan says she follows a few of her favorite farms on Facebook, because farmers often post when their fields are at peak harvest, or if a berry field has been picked over.
How to freeze berries for the off-season
Rather than pour berries into a bag and dangerously chip a corner off the frozen block with a kitchen knife next November, Duncan suggests using the IQF method – individually quick-frozen.
She spreads berries of any variety on a sheet pan, freezes them, then puts them in a freezer bag. Individual berries can then be scooped out when needed, so you have local berries even in the winter.
They aren’t just for dessert
Duncan says berries can be used for savory as well as sweet dishes. Often, blueberries, blackberries or cranberries can be pureed and warmed for a pan sauce on top of meats, say, pork or chicken. A splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar, and some sautéed shallots, reduces the berries’ sweetness, but still lets you enjoy the nutrient-packed berries in another meal.
Berries are also great added to salads, and dried berries are a great addition to rice pilaf or a hearty grain or quinoa salad, whether for main dish or for a side dish with grilled meats this summer.