Berry Good for You
by Cathe Olson
I love spring and summer when there are so many fresh, local fruits to choose from. I especially love berries. My family looks forward all year to picking ripe blackberries from the tangled bushes in our yard. My daughters run out as soon as they wake up to pick berries for our breakfast muesli and return with their mouths and fingers stained purple.
Berries not only taste good but they are very nutritious. They are a rich source of phytonutrients and antioxidants, which protect against cell damage from free radicals – a proven cause of disease and premature aging. Berries also help to protect against many types of cancer. They are a good source of vitamin C and fiber.
Selection and Storage
When selecting berries, look for firm, well-colored fruit. Avoid berries that are mushy, moldy, or shriveled, as well as any fruit that has been punctured. Buy certified organic berries whenever possible as berries (especially strawberries) are some of the most highly pesticized fruits. Studies also suggest that organic berries are higher in nutrients than commercial grown.
Before storing, pick out any overripe berries as they will hasten the decay of the rest. Do not wash berries until you are ready to use them as this promotes the growth of mold. Keep fresh berries refrigerated.
Berries are best eaten raw as cooking destroys many of their nutrients. They are delicious plain or in cereal, smoothies, pancakes, shortcakes, tarts and pies. Berries freeze well for use in smoothies or Better Than Ice Cream (see recipe below). To freeze fresh berries, rinse them and spread on a baking sheet. Place baking sheet in freezer for an hour or two until the berries are frozen. Transfer frozen fruit to a freezer container or bag and store in freezer until ready to use. Fruit will keep for at least 6 months in freezer.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most popular summer berries.
Blackberries/Boysenberries are larger and juicier than raspberries with a richer flavor. They deteriorate quickly so should be eaten or frozen within a day or two. They are helpful in relieving diarrhea.
Blueberries are one of the top antioxidant-rich foods. They help to promote heart, eye, and immune system health. Blueberries can be stored longer than most other berries – up to 10 days in the refrigerator and 10 months in the freezer.
Raspberries contain calcium, vitamins A, C, E, and folic acid. Some of the fiber in raspberries is soluble fiber in the form of pectin, which lowers cholesterol. Raspberry leaf tea is excellent for pregnant women as it nourishes the reproductive organs, helps allay morning sickness, reduces labor pains, and increases milk flow.
Strawberries came in second to blueberries in the USDA’s analysis of antioxidant capacity of 40 fruits and vegetables. They contain more vitamin C than any other berry. Antioxidant compounds found in strawberries may also prevent the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and thereby help fight the development of heart disease. Buy organic as strawberries are the top of the list of foods with pesticide residue.
Müesli My Mom used to make big batches of Müesli in the summer when fresh berries and fruit were abundant. We would eat it all day long. Müesli can be made any time of year with whatever fruit is available. It keeps for several days in the refrigerator and makes a great snack. You can make Müesli the night before so breakfast will be ready in the morning.
This is a completely versatile dish. Start with oats and nondairy milk and then add whatever fruit is in season and your favorite nuts or seeds. If gluten in oats is a problem, substitute rolled barley or other rolled grain. Here’s one version that we enjoy.
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 1/2 cups nondairy milk
- 1 peach or nectarine, diced
- 2 apricots or plums, diced
- 1 cup berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.)
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds or chopped almonds
Mix oats and milk together in large bowl. Let sit while you prepare fruit or place in refrigerator overnight. Mix in remaining ingredients. Eat immediately or refrigerate for later.
Makes 6 servings
Variation: Replace 1/2 to 1 cup milk with nondairy yogurt.
- 2 1/4 cups apple juice, divided
- 1 tablespoon agar agar flakes
- 1 tablespoon cashew butter or tahini
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1/2 cup Whipped Tofu Cream (recipes follows) (optional)
- 4 whole strawberries for garnish
Pour 2 cups apple juice into small pan. Sprinkle agar agar flakes over top. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Place remaining 1/4 cup apple juice, cashew butter or tahini, and strawberries in blender or food processor. Pulse to puree. Leave it a little chunky if you like. Stir puree into apple juice mixture in pan. Pour the mousse into 4 individual serving dishes. Chill at least one hour, or until firm. Top with a dollop of whipped topping if desired. Garnish with whole strawberries.
Makes 4 servings
Whipped Tofu Cream This is a delicious nondairy alternative to whipped cream. Keep blending until it is really creamy.
- 8 ounces silken tofu
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, or honey
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
- 1 tablespoon soy or other nondairy milk, if needed
Puree tofu, sweetener, oil, and vanilla or almond extract in blender or food processor until very smooth and creamy. Add milk if necessary for creamy texture. Chill for at least one hour before using. Mixture will firm slightly as it chills.
Makes about 1 cup
Note: A few drops of liquid stevia extract can be substituted for other sweeteners.
Better Than Ice Cream
- 1 cup frozen sliced bananas
- 1 cup frozen berries or diced peaches
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup nondairy milk (soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc.)
Place nuts in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add bananas and berries or peaches. Pulse until fruit is coarsely chopped. Add milk a little at a time through top of processor, and puree until creamy.
Makes 4 servings
Note: This is best eaten right after it is made. If you want to save it for later, place in individual containers and leave at room temperature about 10 minutes before eating.
Recipes from The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook copyright © 2005 by Cathe Olson.
Prescription for Dietary Wellness – Second Edition, by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. (Avery, 2003.)
Whole Foods Companion, by Dianne Onstad. (Chelsea Green, 2004.)
The World’s Healthiest Foods