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National Restaurant Association - Ask the Nutritionist: Berries are good for you and your menus

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Ask the Nutritionist: Berries are good for you and your menus

The National Restaurant Association's Director of Nutrition & Healthy Living Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., provides regular commentary on the NRA News blog. This latest posts discusses the nutritional benefits of berries.

This time of year we see many different varieties and colors of fresh berries, which are a great addition to many dishes, both savory and sweet. Overall, the many varieties of berries are low in calories and provide essential nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins and minerals. The more traditional berries include strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, blackberries and raspberries, but currants, bilberries, gooseberries and loganberries are starting to gain awareness. Research continues to point to the health benefits of berries, particularly when it comes to our mental function.

Studies, including both animal and human studies, suggest that consuming berries have beneficial effects on the brain that effect pathways of communication. In general, evidence indicates these effects on the brain may slow the progression of dementia and possibly Alzheimer’s. Additional benefits include reducing the presence of unstable compounds that damage cells (free radicals), reducing inflammation within cells, and enhancing communication between the cells to improve cognition and motor skills.

The compounds in berries that are suspected to provide these benefits are flavonoids, particularly anthocyanins, which are commonly referenced as antioxidants. As a rule of thumb, darkly colored berries contain more of these compounds. There is no specific recommendation for consumption of berries; however Americans should be consuming about 2 cups of fruit per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet. One-half cup of berries would be considered a serving of fruit.

Here are a few recommendations to incorporate more berries into menus:

• Do not wash the berries until ready to eat or incorporate into the dish, as they spoil faster after being washed.
• Add berries to hot or cold cereal or other breakfast items, such as whole grain pancakes or waffles.
• Offer berry smoothies as beverage options - use skim milk, berries of choice, ice and non-fat vanilla yogurt.
• Add an assortment of berries as a dessert option.
• Add berries to your salad options.
• Make a berry salsa, incorporating various berries - it goes great on both desserts and savory dishes.
• Add berries to fruit and yogurt parfaits.
• Combine berries and other fruit to make a fruit kabob served with low fat yogurt or other dipping sauce.
• Berries can be enjoyed year-round by freezing them while at the peak of freshness - the nutritional benefits are the same in fresh and frozen berries.

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