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It's the Berries

Delicious, nutritious and nice to look at

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They're tiny, but they pack a wallop. Berries, those colorful little gems, are among the world's healthiest foods. Want to fight cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol? Eat a bowl of berries. Interested in avoiding kidney stones and the dreaded UTIs? Berries again. They're even touted as possible protection against Alzheimer's disease or dementia, so — while you still can — remember to eat those berries.

All types of berries are low in calories and loaded with all sorts of nutrients, even though they may come from different families. Blueberries are the fruits of a shrub in the heath family, which also includes azaleas and rhododendrons. They grow in clusters and range in color from blue to maroon to purplish-black. That white-gray "bloom" on the surface serves as a protective coating for the fruit. The antioxidants in blueberries neutralize free radical damage that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins and hemorrhoids, among other unwelcome ailments.

Raspberries, members of the rose family, are known as "aggregate fruits," since they are made up of smaller seed-containing fruits. Those individual little segments are called drupelets. Who knew? The most common type of raspberry is red-pink in color, but they also come in a whole range of colors including black, purple, orange, yellow and white. Along with antioxidants, raspberries also have antimicrobial properties that have the ability to prevent overgrowth of certain harmful bacteria and fungi in the body.

Cranberries are sometimes called "bounceberries" because the ripe ones bounce, or "craneberries" because their pink blossoms resemble the heads of cranes that wade in cranberry bogs. These dark red, tart berries are not just for Thanksgiving anymore. They've long been valued for preventing and treating urinary tract infections; recent studies suggest that they may promote gastrointestinal and oral health, aid in recovery from strokes, and may even combat genital herpes.

The most popular berry fruit in the world is the strawberry. You can get them year-round, but strawberries are at their peak from April through July, so now's the time to enjoy them at their most luscious ripeness. Rats on strawberry-rich diets have significantly improved learning capacity and motor skills. Nice people could enjoy the same perks. The high vitamin-C content of strawberries — eight of them have more C than an orange — makes them beneficial in fighting rheumatoid arthritis.

Pick a berry, any berry, and you'll get loads of vitamin C, minerals, fiber and disease-fighting phytonutrients and antioxidants. Beyond what's already been mentioned, berries can help fight macular degeneration, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, asthma, bladder infections and tooth decay.

You'll get the most health benefits from eating fresh berries without a lot of added sugar — and what could be more beautiful than a bowl full of mixed berries. But if that's just a little too healthy for you, you can still feel as if you're doing something good for yourself by eating your berries in, say, a blueberry cobbler…strawberry shortcake…raspberry sorbet…strawberry rhubarb pie…crme brulee with raspberries…blueberry muffins…pecan cranberry tarts…

linda.vespa@creativeloafing.com

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