The Commercial Appeal

Fresh, delicious berries full of healthful nutrients

- By Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D. To send questions, go to Askdoctork.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

Dear Doctor K: Berry season is here again, and I keep hearing that berries are healthy. What’s in them that makes them so good for you?

Answer: Here in the Northeast, we’re enjoying strawberri­es and looking forward to raspberrie­s, blueberrie­s and even blackberri­es further down the road.

Berries are perhaps the easiest way to follow the fruit part of the “eat more fruit and vegetables” advice you hear all the time, including from me. Berries naturally come in bite-size portions. They’re sweet but have a nice low calorie count, partly because they contain a lot of water. If you don’t need to watch your calories — yes, there are people who are born thin — you can pig out on them. (Just don’t sprinkle much sugar on them.)

Berries contain vitamins (C and a little bit of E, because of the seeds) and some lesser-known nutrients. But they also, somewhat surprising­ly, contain a fair amount of fiber. A cup of raspberrie­s contains 8 grams of fiber, which is more fiber than you’ll find in a serving of oatmeal.

But what makes berries stand out nutritiona­lly (and visually) are substances called anthocyani­ns. These substances give berries their vivid red, blue and purplish colors. Anthocyani­ns are antioxidan­ts, which keep oxygen ions and other unstable molecules from damaging DNA, messing with cells’ energy-making machinery, stirring up inflammati­on in the body and having a variety of other harmful effects.

Vitamin supplement­s with antioxidan­ts in them have generally not been proven to benefit your health as many had hoped. However, there’s still a lot of evidence that antioxidan­ts are good for you, and foods that naturally contain antioxidan­ts are thought to promote better health.

Anthocyani­ns are concentrat­ed in the skin of berries (as well as other fruits). In general, the more intense the color, the higher the anthocyani­n content. So blueberrie­s and blackberri­es usually contain more anthocyani­ns than strawberri­es or raspberrie­s. And wild berries have more antioxidan­ts than their larger, paler domesticat­ed relations. Raspberrie­s also contain a substance called ellagitann­in, which imparts flavor and has antioxidan­t properties that add to the effects of anthocyani­ns.

Be sure to wash your berries right before eating them. Berries can harbor viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses.

For me, the best way to start a day is with a bowl of fresh, delicious berries. In fact, that’s what I had for breakfast today — with toast and coffee.

I have a patient who is very knowledgea­ble about food and reportedly a good cook. She once chastised me for writing about how healthy certain foods are.

“The point you should be emphasizin­g is that they are delicious, because they are,” she said. “The fact that they’re also healthy is the icing on the cake.”

She’s right. And berries are healthier than the icing on the cake.

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