Berry benefits include fiber and fighting inflammation

There’s a reason why everything from sour candy and cereal to antacids and energy gels is berry flavored. It’s a crowd-pleasing sweet flavor. But besides the undeniable flavor of artificially flavored “berry” foods, the real deal is one of the best foods for runners. Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and strawberries, as well as their less common but still stellar siblings, acai and gooseberries, are all packed with nutrients and are remarkably versatile.

All types of berries are a boon to your body and brain, and support for your fitness goals, offering plenty of reasons why runners should get more of them in their diet. Here, all the benefits of berries and how they support your overall health and performance.

What nutrients will you get from the berries?

According to 2021 data from the American Society for Nutrition, only 7% of Americans eat enough of a very important carbohydrate: fiber. While whole grains and vegetables are strong sources of fiber, fruit, which 80% of American adults don’t eat enough of, is also a major carrier of this important nutrient. Not only does fiber keep us full, but it also aids digestion, supports heart health and reduces the risk of several chronic diseases, according to research.

“Berries are among the best sources of dietary fiber in the fruit category,” says Michelle Hyman, RD, registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss in New York City. “They also contain antioxidants and phytonutrients. Some varieties, like strawberries, are even surprisingly excellent sources of vitamin C.”

The nutritional value of berries differs slightly depending on the type, but each has tremendous health benefits. Here, nutritional information per 1 cup serving of some of the most common raw berries, according to the USDA.

Strawberry Nutrition Facts:

  • 53 calories
  • 1g protein
  • 0.5g total fat
  • 13g carbohydrates
  • 3g fiber
  • 8g sugar
  • 98mg vitamin C
  • 27mg Calcium
  • 254mg potassium

      Blueberry Nutrition Facts:

      • 86 calories
      • 1g protein
      • 0.5g total fat
      • 22g carbohydrates
      • 4g fiber
      • 15g of sugar
      • 15mg vitamin C
      • 9mg Calcium
      • 116mg potassium

        Blackberries nutritional information:

        • 65 calories
        • 2g protein
        • 1g total fat
        • 14g carbohydrates
        • 8g fiber
        • 7g sugar
        • 32mg vitamin C
        • 44mg Calcium
        • 243mg potassium

            Raspberries nutritional information:

            • 78 calories
            • 2g protein
            • 1g total fat
            • 18g carbohydrates
            • 10g fiber
            • 7g sugar
            • 39mg vitamin C
            • 38mg Calcium
            • 226mg potassium

                Cranberry Nutrition Facts:

                • 46 calories
                • 0.5g protein
                • 0g total fat
                • 12g carbohydrates
                • 4g fiber
                • 4g sugar
                • 14mg vitamin C
                • 8mg Calcium
                • 80mg potassium

                    What are the health benefits of berries?

                    Getting your five days worth of fruits and vegetables from any source has been linked to a lower mortality risk, according to a meta-analysis published in March 2021 in the journal Traffic. But berries specifically offer a host of health benefits:

                    1. They are all-natural anti-inflammatories

                      Fruit as a whole is known to fight inflammation, Hyman says, “which may benefit people who participate in high-intensity training like running.”

                      Vitamin C, quercetin (a flavonoid), and manganese function as antioxidants in the body, adds Mary Stewart, RD, registered dietitian and founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas. This and the anthocyanins (polyphenols) that give berries their vibrant color make them particularly effective at fighting chronic inflammation caused by stress, unhealthy food choices, and lack or excess of physical activity.

                      2. They could help you perform better

                        Along with being anti-inflammatory, berries offer antioxidant properties that can help fight fatigue and aid recovery, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a Dobbs Ferry, New York-based nutrition expert and avid runner.

                        Research suggests that blueberry powder supplementation may inhibit the blood lactate response when running, potentially allowing you to go longer or at a higher intensity without fatigue, says Largeman-Roth. (Full disclosure: The US Highbush Blueberry Council funded the study.)

                        3. Berries help increase satiety

                          Berries, one of the best carbs for runners, are also among the most filling ingredients to add to your post-workout snack or smoothie, thanks to their fiber content. Raspberries and blackberries are particularly high in fiber, “a key nutrient for weight management, gut health, and reducing the risk of chronic disease,” says Stewart.

                          Berries of all kinds feed your gut with soluble fiber, which not only helps you stay full longer than, say, potato chips because they are slower to digest, but also blocks the absorption of some fats and cholesterol into your bloodstream.

                          4. They reduce the risk of chronic diseases

                            Research proves that eating berries three times a week or more can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attacks. Adults who fall into the “overweight” and “obese” categories who eat 1 cup of blueberries every day for six months report noticeable improvements in heart health, reports a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2019.

                            5. They support your immune system

                              All berries contain vitamin C, no supplementation is required, and strawberries are a particularly good source. (A cup of strawberries actually contains more vitamin C than an orange, according to the National Institutes of Health.)

                              “Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps support a healthy immune system and protect cells against free radical damage,” says Largeman-Roth.

                              6. They may reduce the risk of certain cancers

                                Speaking of free radicals, the antioxidants in berries, such as anthocyanins, ellagic acid and resveratrol, have been correlated with a lower risk of several cancers, including breast cancer, cancers of the gastrointestinal tract bowel and oral cancers. This may be partly due to the ability of antioxidants to “detoxify” carcinogens that can damage DNA during the cancer development process.

                                10 ways to add berries to your diet

                                Boost the color and nutrition of any meal of the day with these unexpected ideas from Hyman, Stewart and Largeman-Roth:

                                • Put a few berries in ice cubes to use in plain or sparkling water
                                • Stack inside a grilled cheese sandwich
                                • Prepare a sweet and savory pizza with ricotta cheese, prosciutto, berries, arugula and fresh herbs
                                • Mix a berry pasta sauce with a little olive oil, plus equal parts berries and parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt
                                • Create fruit chia jam by heating frozen berries with a spoonful of chia seeds, then refrigerating until they look like gel
                                • Fold them in pancake or waffle batter
                                • Puree frozen berries and coconut water or nut milk for a DIY sorbet
                                • Stir berries into yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal
                                • Snack on a tortilla roll with crushed berries and nut butter

                                  Remember: “As with any food or drink, portion size matters. Berries are a high fiber food and although this is a great attribute when evaluating the nutrient density of a food, consuming too much fiber too quickly can lead to digestive discomfort, such as bloating or constipation” , explains Stewart. “If you’re new to consuming berries, start with a small serving of ½ to 1 cup and drink plenty of water.” Also, start by incorporating berries into your diet after workouts, rather than before until you know how your digestive system responds.

                                  The essentials on the benefits of berries

                                  “Athletes, including runners, can experience exercise-induced oxidative stress and therefore consuming adequate amounts of anti-inflammatory foods like berries will aid recovery,” says Stewart.

                                  If it’s within your budget and you can find some, stock up on organic berries, suggests Stewart. That’s because strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are consistently ranked among the highest fruits in terms of pesticide residues, according to the Environmental Working Group. “This can be greatly improved by buying organic products,” adds Stewart.

                                  Whether you buy them fresh or frozen, organic or non-organic, the goal is to get your two to four servings of fruit a day, with berries being the top choice.

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