Doctor’s Tip: Berries are very good for you

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor's Tip

Berries are another one of Dr. Michael Greger’s daily dozen in his book “How Not to Die” — foods we should be eating every day for optimal health. A large study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2010 determined that the leading cause of death and disability in this country is the American diet, and that one of the most important things we can do to improve our diet is to eat more fruit.

A recurring theme in these columns is that we should eat fruit and vegetables with intense flavor (herbs and spices) and/or intense color. That’s because these foods have the most antioxidants and other micronutrients — oxidation in our bodies contributes to many health issues, such as aging, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

In the case of fruits, berries win for intense color. Dr. Greger’s favorite berries are acai berries, amla (Indian gooseberries), barberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, concord grapes, unsweetened cranberries, goji berries, kumquats, mulberries, red or black raspberries and strawberries. He recommends 1 serving of berries a day, a serving being 1/2 cup of fresh or frozen berries or 1/4 cup of dried berries. He recommends avoiding fruit juice, which is basically flavored sugar water (even if you make your own). It’s interesting to look at the antioxidant power of various fruits: bananas (a white fruit) have 40 units of antioxidant power; apples 60; strawberries 310; blueberries 380; and blackberries, which have the most intense color, have 650 units.

Following are a few examples of how berries can improve your health:

• Amla (powdered Indian gooseberries, which can be found on the internet) can lower cholesterol 35-40% (as much as a statin); lower Lp(a), a particularly harmful form of bad cholesterol (LDL); lower blood sugar in diabetics; prevent clotting; reduce inflammation; and prevent growth of cancer cells in the lab.

• Goji berries, which are bright red, have high concentrations of melatonin, the “sleep hormone” — if eaten in the evening they promote sleep. An antioxidant in goji berries called zeaxanthin helps prevent macular degeneration (a small amount of fat such as a few nuts, helps with absorption of this antioxidant). Goji berries can be found locally at Natural Grocers, or they can be bought for less money at Asian markets as Lycium berries.

• Bilberries, blackberries, strawberries, aronia berries, elderberries, black raspberries and blueberries (especially the smaller, wild variety) contain a powerful antioxidant called anthocyanin.

• Dr. Greger groups cherries with berries, and notes that tart cherries have strong anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to prevent and treat gout.

• Cranberries have been shown in the lab to suppress growth of several types of human cancer cells, due to the pigment anthocyanin. Cranberries are tart, so mix them with other fruit. Avoid dried cranberries, which usually contain added sugar.

One way to enjoy berries and to check off this daily dozen item first thing in the morning, is to put them on your cereal (ideally oatmeal). Costco sells large, cost-effective bags of frozen organic blueberries as well as mixed berries, or at Natural Grocers you can find large bags of wild blueberries, which have twice the antioxidant power as regular blueberries. Consider a bowel of berries with unsweetened almond or soy milk for dessert right after dinner. You can also add berries to a green smoothie, although it should be consumed over 30 minutes to prevent a rise in blood sugar. Another option is to blend frozen berries in a food processer, and eat them as “ice cream.”

What about the sugar in fruit? Added sugar causes health problems such as liver damage, weight gain, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes/diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. However, eating unprocessed fruit does not harm your health, due to the fiber, antioxidants and other micronutrients in whole fruit. According to Dr. Greger, many human studies including some involving diabetics, have confirmed the sugar in whole fruit does not cause a rise in blood sugar.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email

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