When it comes to fruit, berries are the total package—they’re tasty, they’re versatile, and their nutrition is hard to beat. Berries frequently appear in varying shades of red, blue, purple, and even black. The deep jewel tones of berries indicate the high levels of super antioxidants inside the fruit (which will eventually be inside your body, fighting oxidative crime). A berry’s deep hue specifically indicates the presence of anthocyanins, a type of plant chemical called a flavonoid. Other flavonoids found in most berries include quercetin and catechin. These antioxidants—especially when consumed (and enjoyed) in their natural form of food—are strong fighters inside your body against oxidative stress(damage).
Berries are high in vitamin A, another a powerful antioxidant, as well as vitamins C and K. They can be significant contributors toward your daily fiber and mineral needs (think manganese & potassium). The structure of berries is mostly fiber and water, so a typical 1 cup serving will offer 3-5 grams fiber, depending on the variety. While many varieties of berries do contain a bit of natural fruit sugar, the high content of fiber and water is believed to reduce this sugars effect on blood glucose and is less readily absorbed by the body than, say, fruit snacks (which are candy—not fruit). Even very tart or sour berries can be sweetened with a very minimal addition of a natural sweetener (think honey, agave, or stevia).
Berries can be enjoyed year round! First, consider two common varieties of berries found readily in the winter months—red/purple grapes and cranberries. Grapes make an incredibly convenient and portable snack loved by kids of all ages. Cranberries are quite versatile and will taste great in everything from muffins and salads to risottos and pilafs. Other more exotic varieties of berries are considered ‘in season’ during winter months, such as the acai and the goji berries. You may have to look in a specialty store to find these, but they are increasingly common in regular neighborhood grocery stores as well.
Another great option is in the freezer section of your grocery store; varieties of frozen berries are often sold in bags of 1 to 3 pounds. One of my favorite benefits to frozen berries is how long they last. Thaw only as much as you need for today’s meal or snack and have no worries about them wilting before you can use the rest. Frozen berries can be added to muffin or pancake batter still frozen—no advance planning needed!
Ideas for frozen berries:
- Thaw ½ c. frozen berries in the fridge overnight—top with ¾ c. plain yogurt and drizzle with honey.
- Toss a handful of frozen, partially thawed, or fully thawed raspberries into your favorite whole-grain cereal in the morning. This works great for hot and cold cereals.
- Thaw berries (and other frozen fruits) in single serve containers and send these “fruit cups” in your kids’ lunches.
- Use frozen berries to whip up a quickie sorbet for those moments when your sweet tooth goes crazy and demands satisfaction (we’ve all been there).
Berries may remind you of warm summer days, but they will serve you well if you don’t forget them through the winter. Next time you head to the grocery store, see what your produce section has to offer, or grab a bag from the freezer and challenge yourself to try at least one of these ideas—or come up with your own!
Mandi Irwin, RD, LDN