On the road to a berry good summer

by Karen Bowen

Whether you like berries fresh from the field, sprinkled on your cereal, or blended into a smoothie, now is the season to enjoy the health benefits of these tasty fruits. Raspberries, currants, loganberries, strawberries and blueberries are all bursting with taste and nutrition, but particularly, raspberries.

If you’ve ever picked raspberries, you’ll recognize that their thorny stems are similar to a rose’s. Interestingly, raspberries are from the same family of plants, Rosaceae, or the rose family. One prickly raspberry bush can yield several hundred berries each year.

Unlike plums, cherries, peaches and apricots – also members of the rose family – the whole raspberry is not a typical fruit, but actually a collection of about 100 small drupelets, which grow around a hollow, central cavity. Each drupelet contains a seed embedded in its juicy pulp.

Although we are most familiar with red and black raspberries, there are actually 200 varieties, which come in these other colours: purple, orange, white and yellow. No matter what colour you prefer, choose fully ripe berries for the most nutrition.

Since raspberries are produced commercially in temperate climates around the world and transportation and storage is quite advanced, raspberries can now be found in grocery stores all year long. Yet, in-season, freshly-picked local berries contain the most vitamins, as some vitamins break down during storage.

Raspberries are high in fiber and antioxidants, while low in saturated fats and calories. Raspberries have their own sweetness booster; one cup of raspberries only has 60 calories. In fact, a low-calorie sugar substitute, xylitol, is extracted from raspberries. Xylitol is especially helpful for diabetics as a sugar substitute because it doesn’t get absorbed in the intestine as quickly as sugar, contributing to a stable blood sugar level.

Raspberries have significantly high levels of antioxidants, which reduce the risk of cancer, premature aging, inflammation, and neuro-degenerative diseases. Some of these antioxidants include: phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals, anthocyanins, ellagic acid (tannin), quercetin, gallic acid, cyanidins, pelargonidins, catechins, and kaempferol. These flavonoid molecules are further broken down into anthocyanins, which control certain bacteria and fungi in the body. The salicylic acid in raspberries acts like aspirin for thinning the blood.

Fresh raspberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C – another powerful natural antioxidant. One hundred grams of berries provides about 47% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C. This Vitamin C helps your body repair blood vessels and connective tissue and to resist infection, reduce inflammation, and destroy free radicals.

As well, raspberries’ Vitamins A and E, along with other flavonoid antioxidants (aslutein, zea-xanthin, and beta-carotene in small amounts) protect against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are connected to aging and various disease processes, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition to antioxidants, raspberries contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, iron and magnesium. Potassium is important for controlling your heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body to boost the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which builds your immune system. Copper is necessary for producing healthy red blood cells.

Raspberries are also rich in the B-complex group of vitamins (Vitamin B-6, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid) and Vitamin K, which help your body metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fats.

Even with all these health benefits, eating raspberries may not be for everyone. People with irritable bowel syndrome are often advised to avoid foods with small seeds, including raspberries, because the seeds may not easily pass through the digestive tract.

Even if you have the most stable digestive system, moderation is the key to avoiding camping and/or diarrhea.  When picking up raspberries at a roadside stand or the supermarket, choose plump, brightly coloured berries without a hull. If the hull is still attached, the berry was picked too early and will be a bit sour. Look for clean, unblemished berries in an unstained container.

If you don’t eat them all on the way home, they’ll stay fresh in the fridge for only two to three days. To prevent bruising, be sure to store them only one layer deep. Because their shelf life is so short, you might want to freeze the raspberries you are not able to eat right away.

If freezing them, I recommend that you don’t wash them first, as they will become mushy. Instead, spread out a single layer of completely dry berries on a cookie sheet and then freeze them until solid. Later, put them in freezer bags and back into the freezer. Frozen, they’ll last up to one year and can be used for a variety of dishes, including muffins, pies, and crisps, etc., as well as smoothies and garnishes.

However, on the road, you’ll be able to enjoy raspberries at their fullest flavour, at room temperature. Just pick up a container up at the grocery store as you head out of town. Sweet!

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