Nicky Park: These fruits are berry good for you

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Berries are bursting with goodness for your body.Photo / Thinkstock
Berries are bursting with goodness for your body.Photo / Thinkstock

The tail end of berry season is approaching. Come the end of April, you won't be seeing these fruity beauties on the shelves. This is the bad news. The good news is, that frozen berries are still packed with all the goodness that you get in the fresh varieties.

I've always been a big berry fan. And I also love learning about things that are good for the body and brain. So recently, an opportunity came up to chat to international scientist, and berry specialist, Dr Mary Ann Lila. Dr Lila has been focused on finding out the health enhancing compounds in all sorts of berries (especially blueberries) and she's at the top of her game.

So, here's what I learnt when I picked her berry brains:

Berries have natural chemicals in them that work in our bodies to combat the symptoms of chronic disease (like heart disease and cancer) and improve our metabolism (keeping diabetes at bay). These clever compounds are produced by the plant to help protect it from environmental threats like light, drought and insects.

But these properties manage to work in humans to fight disease. But not all berries boast the same levels - blueberries are the best of the bunch, but strawberries, cranberries and raspberries still add something to your temple.

Blueberries: These berries are what Dr Lila says are at the "top of the heap". Blueberries have 27 different pigments and tannins (other fruits have just a few each) so they're major players in prevention of disease. Dr Lila says they're particularly powerful cancer crusaders - they can inhibit pre-cancer cells and reduce tumor formation and the progression of the disease. They also lower blood glucose levels, make you feel like you're full and will burn fat WHILE YOU SLEEP! All this adds up to prevention of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Dr Lila has also found eating blueberries can help resist heart disease, hypertension, infections and gingivitis. (I add a handful of blueberries to my breakfast every morning - blitz them up in a smoothie with oats, almond milk, chia seeds and half a banana. Or throw them on your porridge - lovely!)

Cranberries: These guys are the "cousin of the blueberry," Dr Lila says, so they're pretty complex. The coolest thing about cranberries is their anti-infection quality. (Ladies, you may have been told to guzzle cranberry juice when you've got yourself a urinary tract infection?) The way they take action is pretty impressive because they seem to work the opposite way to an antibiotic. Dr Lila explains: "If you take an antibiotic it will kill your bacteria. But the problem is sometimes there's going to be a few that aren't killed. The most resistant bacteria live another generation. So you're building up a super bacteria. But cranberries, they interact and lock like a key on to the bacteria and the prevent it from grabbing hold of your urinary tract wall and colonising. So they just fall out of the stream. So there's no build up of resistant bacteria." And they work just as well when juiced. Clever cranberries!

Raspberries and Strawberries: These are probably the sweetest, most romantic looking berries in the family. They aren't as nourishing as the others, but they do offer some goodness. Raspberries have a special kind of chemical, unique to the berry family, which is being looked at for its ability to fight colon cancer. And strawberries are being studied for their heart disease and cancer fighting qualities (plus they're so darn sexy).

Fresh V Frozen:

Dr Lila says frozen berries capture all the chemicals that fill the fresh fruit. However, this is while they're frozen solid. As soon as they start to soften you're losing it. So try and keep them in the back of your freezer and eat them before they thaw. And heating them up will also undermine some of the active chemicals - so baking them in a pie will hinder some of their handy work.

Follow Life & Style Editor Nicky Park on Twitter and Instagram.

Nicky Park

Editor of Life & Style.

Nicky lives to wine, dine and thrive. As Life & Style Editor at the New Zealand Herald online, she feels lucky she can call this work. Nicky crafted her writing skills as a cadet for an Australian news wire. Amongst the coverage of sport, news, finance and courts she found a favourite in features. A stint as a foreign correspondent sent this chipper Aussie across the Tasman, covering the big issues of the Pacific Islands. Every single day Nicky relishes the opportunities she has to mix and mingle with interesting people, feast on delicious food, visit new places and write all about it. Nicky wants everyone to make the most of their minutes, learn lots and live their best life.

Read more by Nicky Park

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