10 superfoods to help get you through winter

Julie Shaw-Binns feeds daughter Loisa a tasty treat of berries. Picture: contributed
Julie Shaw-Binns feeds daughter Loisa a tasty treat of berries. Picture: contributed
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IT’S about time we faced facts. Summer is over, autumn is here, and the drop in temperature brings with it coughs and colds, ­sniffles and sneezes.

And while our diets and as a result our health, might have improved during the hotter months with salads and strawberries making their ­annual reappearance at the dinner table, now is not the time to abandon all good intentions and settle into stodgy eating for the next six months.

Instead we should all be stuffing ourselves with those so-called superfoods, the small baubles of berry goodness, in every size, shape and shade.

Despite there being little hard, scientific evidence about the health benefits of many berries when it comes to tackling cancer and heart disease, most dieticians and nutritionists agree that throwing a handful of berries on your porridge or breakfast cereal or replacing a bag of crisps with a punnet of raspberries is not only better in terms of a balanced diet, but that some berries can pack a punch in terms of health benefits thanks to their anti-oxidents and polyphenols.

Here are the top ten berries you’ll want to have in the fridge. They might not keep the winter colds at bay, but at least they’ll taste good.

BLUEBERRIES

IT is believed that eating blueberries could help your memory and that they have high levels of compounds which help widen arteries, and therefore help blood flow.

Certainly they’ve been proved to be rich in anti-oxidants, are low-fat, free of saturated fat and are a good source of fibre and vitamin C.

One lesser known potential benefit is that they may strengthen the skeleton. A study found that a blueberry-rich diet could help develop bone mass because compounds called polyphenols (the pigments that give blueberries their colour) appear to stimulate bone cell growth.

A further study has also suggested the little blue berries could help ward off oestoporosis. However Alison ­Hornby, a freelance dietitian says: “While research on the health claims of blueberries is inconclusive they are a fantastic choice as one of your five portions of fruit and veg a day.”

BLACKBERRIES

LIKE the blueberry, blackberries or brambles are rich in polyphenols which could possibly help prevent cardiovascular disease. They also contain high amounts of fibre compared to other types of fruit – one cup has about seven grams and the daily recommended fibre intake is 25-25 grams.

They are also rich in vitamin C, contain some iron, calcium and vitamin A too and are ­believed to be able to stimulate the brain cells.

An animal study found blackberry extracts improved balance, co-ordination and memory, which researchers concluded may be down to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

STRAWBERRIES

YOU may feel like the time for bingeing on strawberries has disappeared along with long, warm evenings, but they are still a good option for health.

They are packed with vitamin C – much more so than oranges – and are also an excellent source of folate, a nutrient which is suspected, though not proven, to offer some protection to the heart as well as containing the same compounds to widen arteries and prevent plaque build-up which can lead to cardiac arrest.

They are also one of the best natural cures around for constipation. The high-fibre content is known to improve bowel function – and unlike prunes which can have the opposite effect if you’re not properly hydrated, they are 92 per cent water.

RASPBERRIES

RICH in fibre – yes those hairy bits are actually good for you – half a cup delivers four grams of the stuff and you also get 25 per cent of your recommended intake for vitamin C and manganese too.

Low in fat like other berries and similarly high in polyphenols, they are almost as potent as blueberries when it comes to antioxidant content. Raspberries are also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties thanks to anthocyanins, the pigments which give them their vivid colour.

GOJI BERRIES

MADE popular by celebrities such as Madonna, these Himalayan berries contain more ­beta-carotene than carrots, making them particularly good for eye health. Their iron content also far outweighs that of steak and spinach combined. Iron, of course, is needed by the body to form haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood cells responsible for moving oxygen around the body. A lack of red blood cells leads to anaemia and low ­energy levels – figures from the department of health suggest a third of women eat so little iron it affects their health – so a diet with goji berries in it should keep energy levels high, which might be why the Chinese have been using them in medicine for more than 6000 years.

There have also been suggestions they can boost the immune system and brain activity, but Alison Hornby says the evidence is weak.

ACAI BERRIES

THE superfruit of superfoods? Perhaps. It’s certainly claimed that when it comes to antioxidants, the compounds which appear to protect cells from damage which can lead to ­diseases such as cancer, it smashes blackberries, strawberries and blueberries to a fruity pulp.

The Brazilian berries are a good source of fibre, but are much tarter than some of the more homegrown berries. However if it’s anti-ageing effects you’re after then this could be the berry for you. One study in America found that fruit flies lived three times longer if they were given acai supplements compared with a control group.

CRANBERRIES

THE health properties of these are well known by women who suffer from cystitis – drinking cranberry juice is believed to flush out the urinary tract system better than anything else thanks to compounds called proanthocyanidins which stop bacteria attaching to the bladder wall – but they can do so much more.

They are believed to increase HDL, the good cholesterol in our bodies and could also fight off H.pylori, a bacteria associated with peptic ulcer ­disease and gastric cancer.

LIGONBERRIES

FAMILIAR to anyone who has ever shopped in Ikea, these Scandanavian berries are believed to have many health properties, not least losing weight.

Studies with animals have shown that the berries can reduce inflammation, block oxidants from destroying tissue and help the body replace antioxidants.

It’s also been shown to increase red blood cell and liver enzymes and extracts from the berry are also possibly even effective against the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.

REDCURRANTS

FORGET bananas, a cup of redcurrants contains 308mg of the recommended 2000mg of potassium you need each day, which is vital to regulate blood pressure and is important for muscles and bones. In fact, a deficiency in potassium can lead to muscle cramps, weakness and an ­irregular heartbeat. So they’re so much more than a plate decoration.

CHOKEBERRIES

FROM North America these are the latest berry to be associated with potential health benefits, in particular with pancreatic cancer.

Researchers in London ­believe they could work in combination with conventional drugs to kill more cancer cells.

Certainly, like most berries they are packed with essential phyto-nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants and 100g of fresh berries provides around 35 per cent of daily recommended levels of vitamin C.