What Are Berries?
Berries are some of the most versatile foods on the planet. You can pick them in the wild, grow them in your backyard, or buy them at the grocery store. There are dozens of varieties of berries, from the popular strawberry to the wild huckleberry.
Botanically, berries are a category of fruit, like citrus. For a fruit to be a true berry, it has to come from one flower with one ovary and have several seeds. That makes bananas and tomatoes botanically berries.
Types of Berries
Strawberries aren't really berries. They're the ends of the plant's stamen and the small black spots are the fruits. According to the USDA, we eat almost 5 pounds of fresh and frozen strawberries annually.
Strawberries are an excellent source of manganese, vitamin C, folate, and potassium. Their antioxidants may improve your overall heart health.
Raspberries grow on bushes in red, black, and purple and have a sweet taste and soft texture. You can eat them raw, or use them in smoothies, jellies, jams, or in baking.
Raspberries have healthy fiber, cancer-preventing flavonoids and polyphenols, and plenty of vitamin C. Their antioxidants also may help reduce signs of aging.
Açai (ah-sigh-EE) berries grow on a palm tree in the eastern Amazon, and they're hard to keep fresh after harvest. Today you can get freeze-dried berries more easily. Açai is popular in drinks, bowls, and served frozen.
Huckleberries are sweet, tart, purple berries and are slightly smaller than blueberries. There’s no good method to commercially farm them, so you have to forage for huckleberries in the wild in places such as Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
You can eat huckleberries raw, or use them in jams, syrups, and other foods. They're packed with more antioxidants than blueberries.
Gooseberries are small, tart, and juicy and can be green, red, or purple. They're low in calories and fat but loaded with vitamin C and fiber, as well as copper, manganese, and potassium.
Marionberries are a variety of the blackberry bred by the USDA in Marion County, Oregon, in the late 1940s. Today most marionberries are still grown and harvested in Marion. They're usually ready to pick in late July and are best when frozen.
Marionberries have a healthy dose of vitamin C and other nutrients that might protect you from heart disease and age-related mental decline.
Goji berries are tiny red fruits native to Asia. They're available in dry and powder form that you can add to drinks, smoothies, yogurts, and trail mixes. A small serving of goji berries can be a great source of nutrients, such as fiber, iron, and vitamins A and C.
Other types of berries
There are several other berries that are also good for your health, including:
Health Benefits of Berries
Many berries pack a lot of nutritional power into a tiny package. They're rich in antioxidants, which can prevent cell damage and may reduce your risks of certain diseases.
Blood sugar control
Research suggests that blueberries might help manage your blood sugar levels. Studies suggest that the deep blue pigment in both fresh blueberries and freeze-dried powder might help reduce the level of sugar in your blood after you eat.
Açai, lingonberries, and black raspberries are loaded with antioxidants. Many studies have shown that antioxidants protect your body from cell damage and lower your chances of some types of cancer.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of blindness in people over age 55. A large-scale study showed that antioxidants can reduce your risk of developing AMD. A separate study found that goji berries may increase your macular pigment density, which affects your overall eye function, but we need more research to understand these findings.
Antioxidants in berries may also help prevent and treat cataract, which develops when protein builds up in the lens of your eye. Studies show there could be a connection between a lack of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, and cataracts, but more research is needed to understand whether the antioxidants can stop cataracts from forming.
Berries, especially raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, are high in soluble fiber, which attaches to cholesterol in your intestines and removes it as waste. Eating just 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber every day could lower your cholesterol by as many as 11 points.
The antioxidants in berries could help prevent heart disease and high blood pressure.
Soluble fiber helps slow down your digestion and makes you feel fuller for longer, which might make losing weight easier. One study found that doubling your fiber intake may lower how many calories your body absorbs.
Studies show chronic inflammation can cause several health problems, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Berries are full of polyphenols and antioxidants, nutrients that may help your body fight inflammation.
Because there are so many different berries, the nutrition content varies. Here are a few examples:
Nutrients per serving
A half-cup serving of blueberries contains:
A half-cup serving of blackberries has:
- Calories: 31
- Protein: 1 gram
- Carbohydrates: 7 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Sugar: 3 grams
- Vitamin C: 15 mg
The recommended serving size of most berries is half a cup. That's the same whether you're eating smaller berries like blueberries or larger ones like strawberries.
If you’re foraging wild berries like huckleberries or salmonberries, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Be 100% confident in identification. Not all wild berries are edible. Some have toxic compounds that can make you very sick. Before eating any wild berries, be absolutely sure of what you picked.
- Don't forage near roads. Berries that grow near busy roadways can have residue from dust, fuel, or other byproducts. Instead, pick berries that are in the woods and away from heavy traffic.
- Beware of pesticides. Wild berries still could have been sprayed with pesticides or insecticides that might be toxic.
- Wash your harvest. As with any produce, thoroughly wash your berries before you eat them.
How to Prepare Berries
Berries are delicious whether fresh or baked into some of your favorite recipes. You may lose a slight amount of vitamin C if you cook them, but the effect is minimal.
Here are some easy ways you can get more berries in your diet:
- Add berries to your oatmeal, yogurt, pancakes, or cereal in the morning.
- Toss some berries in a green salad.
- Snack on fresh berries.
- Whip up a simple smoothie with berries, Greek yogurt, banana, and ice.
- Make blueberry muffins.
- Drop some raspberries into fresh lemonade.