July 14, 2004
Those who grow berries, such as blackberries and raspberries, know that as the fruit ripens on the vines a battle must be waged. How many of you have defended backyard berries against squirrels, birds and insects, not to mention a neighbor or two?
Whether you defend your crop or purchase berries, you are to be nutritionally commended. According to the Oregon Berry Commission, berries may contain natural compounds that slow biochemical processes leading to degenerative diseases and symptoms of aging.
Researchers at Cornell University tested four types of raspberries: Heritage, Kiwigold, Goldie and Anne. The most deeply colored berries tended to have the most healthful attributes. That’s useful to know because few berries are identified by name. The moral of the story: The darker the berry, the more nutritious the fruit.
Over the past few years, studies have alerted us to the damage that an overabundance of oxidizing chemicals can inflict. These molecular fragments — called free radicals — all lack an electron. Given the chance, each will steal an electron from some nearby molecule. The newly depleted molecule then attempts to recover by stealing an electron itself, thereby setting in motion a potentially catastrophic chain reaction.
Free radicals are extremely harmful to biological material. The body unleashes them as one means of killing invaders, such as bacteria, or of removing aging and sick cells. However, such radicals are also one of the primary means by which smog ozone harms the lungs.
The body, if given the right fuel, can unleash antioxidants to keep free-radical chain reactions from getting out of hand. Unfortunately, as people age, the efficiency of that antioxidant-production system drops off.
Research has linked oxidative damage with degenerative diseases, including cancer, diabetes, dementia, cataracts, and the development of artery-clogging plaque. In part, because of this evidence, supplements of antioxidant vitamins, such as C and E, have become popular. However, the data so far doesn’t show that such supplements prevent disease, and most nutritionists recommend that people get their antioxidants from food.
Fruits are an especially rich source. The Cornell team tested in the laboratory how well raspberries’ polyphenols defuse oxidation and found that the deeper a berry’s color, the higher its anthocyanin content and the better its antioxidant prowess.
Eating fresh and cooked berries may be a good way to help your body stay on top of things. The Cornell team noted that in preliminary tests there was little or no loss in antioxidant activity when raspberries are cooked, as in baking or jam making.