Berries: The Perfect Pick

Sweet-tart berries deliver fiber, vitamin C and a delightful taste of summer. Berries are an important source of phytochemicals including anthocyanins and ellagic acid, which may help defend against heart disease and cancer. Though berries deliver the goods, the bioavailability of these compounds in humans is still unknown.

Nevertheless, berries are a perfect pick for healthy eating. Berries are delicate, so look for firm, plump ones without bruises. Moisture harms berries as they are highly susceptible to mold. Choose berries that are dry and not leaking juice, which may hasten spoilage. To extend berries' shelf life, wash them just before eating. Freeze fresh berries immediately or store unwashed in the refrigerator for three to six days.

Fresh, frozen and dried berries will have similar nutrition profiles, although some vitamin C may be lost during processing.

Choose dried fruit without added sugars. Also, keep in mind that dried fruit is calorie-dense and ½ cup dried fruit is roughly the equivalent of 1 cup fresh fruit. Some berries such as açai are difficult to purchase whole fresh, frozen or dried. While açai can be eaten fresh, it's highly perishable and more commonly available as a freeze-dried powder or juice.

Generally low in carbohydrates and calories and high in water, fresh berries are a diabetes-friendly fruit that's also ideal for weight management. Berries are perfect as a snack, added to yogurt, smoothies or cereal, tossed into a salad or relished as dessert. Ideal for adding color and intense flavor to any plate, berries' nutrition benefits are undeniable.

Blackberry

These sweet, earthy berries are an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber. Blackberries' anthocyanin richness shows in their deep-purple color. Enjoy blackberries as a snack or in salads, sauces or desserts.

Blueberry

Adored for their deep-blue hue and sweet-tart flavor, fresh blueberries are a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Blueberries contain free radical scavenging compounds anthocyanins, resveratrol and alphatocopherol, which may provide heart health and cancer-fighting benefits. Enjoy fresh or cooked as a compote or baked dessert.

Boysenberry*

Believed to be a hybrid of raspberries, loganberries and blackberries, boysenberries provide vitamin K and are an excellent source of fiber and folate. Slightly sweeter than raspberries, boysenberries are delicious fresh or in baked desserts. Experience peak boysenberry flavor in July when the berries turn a deep maroon.

Cranberry

Fresh cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber. Cranberries' anti-adhesion properties may play a role in preventing recurring urinary tract infections. Cranberries release their full flavor when cooked. Savor fresh cranberries from October to December, or enjoy them dried and frozen year round.

Currant

Available in black, red and white varieties, currants are native to Europe. With a distinct tartness in a tiny package, currants are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of fiber. Black currants are best cooked or combined with other fruits in jam and jellies.

Goji Berry (Lycium)

Native to China, the bright red goji berry is not a botanical berry. Typically available dried in the U.S., goji berries are an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Traditionally, goji berries are prepared boiled as a tea.

Lingonberry (Alpine Cranberry)

A Scandinavian staple, lingonberries are a good source of vitamin C. Though lingonberries can be eaten fresh, they are most commonly used for juice, purees, jelly and jam in Northern Europe.

Raspberry

Whether red, gold or black, raspberries are low in calories and high in vitamin C and deliver a whopping 8 grams of fiber per cup. An intensely flavored and fragile fruit, raspberries keep for just two to three days refrigerated. In season May to November, raspberries are delicious fresh or in preserves.

Strawberry

A member of the Rosaceae family and not a botanical berry, strawberries are high in vitamin C and folate. Strawberry season peaks in May. Choose fragrant berries and enjoy them raw when in season. Use frozen strawberries when fresh are not available.

* Nutrition information based on 1 cup frozen berries.

Kerry Neville
Kerry Neville, MS, RD, helps commodity boards and better-for-you food companies translate the science of nutrition into the good food that people eat.
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Marisa Moore
Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, is based in Atlanta and specializes in culinary nutrition, communications and consulting. She blogs at marisamoore.com. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.