By Estefania Zavala
Since March is National Nutrition Month, there is no better time to separate the myths from the facts in our eating habits. Beginning with a mystical fruit, we tackle berries. Berries have long held a mystical, fairy-tale appeal to most people. There are the pastoral and nostalgic images of picking berries in the countryside and there are rugged adventure tales of a traveler lost in the wood, living off of wild berries. However, all berries are not alike and some do have considerably more nutritional value than others. Similarly, when selecting a treat, it is always better to go with the whole berry – you are not going to get any antioxidants or mystical nutrition from a mixed berry Pop-Tart. Here is a simple guide to the top three trendy berries in Southern California.
The most prevalent and accessible of berries is the strawberry. Bright, sweet, and red, you may have fond memories of eating these as a child during the summer. Perhaps your mother doused them in sugar and cream or perhaps baked them into a pie. As a Californian, you are uniquely blessed with this berry because California is the nation’s leading provider of strawberries, harvesting more than 2.3 billion pounds in 2014 alone. A serving of this summer staple actually provides 150 percent of your body’s need for Vitamin C and contains a paltry 50 calories.
The next “superberry” is the blueberry, a tiny fruit packed with antioxidants that can help prevent anything from cancer to diabetes. These antioxidants also help with memory retention in older adults. So, the conclusion: feed your grandparents blueberries! These berries also contain 32 percent of your daily Vitamin K needs, 25 percent of your Manganese needs, and 19 percent of your Vitamin C needs. However, be vigilant! These berries are expensive and manufacturers often cut corners. Chances are the blue sludge in your blueberry Pop-Tart is sugar, food coloring, and cornstarch. Even Quaker Oats oatmeal uses fig pieces that are dyed blue to simulate the real blueberry. Remember, this “superfruit” is packed with nutrition as long as you are buying the real deal.
Perhaps the most trendy and expensive berry right now is the açai. Its health proponents range from helping with arthritis and preventing cancer. Like their less exotic brother, the blueberry, açai berries are also packed with antioxidants and contain a good amount of healthy fat. However, research has yet to confirm many of these health benefits. Additionally, one of the downsides of the recent burst in popularity for the açai that the booms has deprived Central and South American people of their own native fruit, since the countries have been forced to export so much of the fruit that it is no longer affordable. This does not detract from the health benefits of the fruit but it is a little something to think about while you enjoy your beautiful açai banana berry bowl from Nekter Juice Bar in Pasadena.
While berries may seem like a magical and delicious answer to your nutritional needs, there are traps you should avoid. Any processed berry has had sugar added to it and the amount of actual fruit in the product may be nonexistent. In the case of very exotic berries, such as the açai, the demand for these fruits may cause negative consequences on their native environments. As you enjoy the first rust of spring berries in this National Nutrition Month, remember to be conscious of the berry myths.