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Nutrition: Bountiful berries offer health benefits

Bonnie Brost

From mid-June to mid-September, the Northland is berry, berry rich.

You can pick berries in the wild and at berry farms. You can purchase fresh-picked berries at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. The bounty includes local strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, juneberries, gooseberries, cranberries and blackberries.

Berries are some of the most powerful disease-fighting foods available. They are rich in antioxidants that help turn off signals that trigger inflammation and decrease damaging free radicals in our body.

Antioxidant anthocyanins give berries their deep rich colors of red and blue. Blueberries are the highest in this super nutrient. Anthocyanins work with another antioxidant, quercetin, to help slow age-related memory loss and decrease inflammation. Ellagic acid, another antioxidant abundant in berries, protects us from cancer. To help ease arthritis pain, the Arthritis Foundation encourages us to eat two to three types of fresh, frozen or dehydrated berries each day.

Local berry seasons are just beginning to unfold. Weather always plays a role, but here are general seasons:

  • Strawberries: Mid-June to mid-July
  • Raspberries: Early July to mid-August and then late August through September
  • Currants: July
  • Juneberries and gooseberries: Mid-July to late August
  • Blueberries:  Mid-July to late August
  • Blackberries: Mid-August to mid-September

Make berry-picking your new summer adventure. You’ll get some exercise and discover some new areas of the Northland while you satisfy your sweet tooth with a healthy option. It’s a good idea to call ahead to check on picking conditions and availability before heading out. If you want to pick in the wild, be sure to check that where you want to go is public land or get permission from the land owner.

To find places to pick or to buy local berries, go online. Along with websites for local growers, you can also check sites for state agriculture departments in Minnesota and Wisconsin that list berry farms. The University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota extension service websites offer good information on how to store and preserve berries.

Easy ways to enjoy berries

  • Have a berry parfait for breakfast. Layer one type of berry on bottom of a dish, top with vanilla or plain yogurt, add a layer of another berry, top with yogurt and finish off with a teaspoon of granola.
  • Top your whole-grain waffle with whole or crushed berries and some vanilla or plain yogurt.
  • Top your favorite whole-grain cereal with fresh or frozen berries.
  •  Eat fresh berries as a snack or dessert.
  • Create a berry smoothie as a cool treat on a warm day.
  • Make a fruit kebab out of a variety of berries.
  • Add fresh berries to salads. Try this recipe for Patriotic Salad.

Patriotic Salad

6 cups mixed salad greens such as romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, spinach and baby kale

1 cup fresh strawberries, stemmed, washed and quartered

1 cup fresh blueberries, washed

1/4 cup crumbled reduced fat feta cheese

1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds

1/2 red onion, sliced

DRESSING

1/2 t. minced garlic

1/8 t. fresh ground pepper

1 T raspberry vinegar

1 T raspberry jam

3 T extra-virgin olive oil

Add mixed salad greens to a bowl or portion onto individual serving plates. Top with berries, feta cheese, sunflower seeds and red onion.

For dressing: Combine garlic, pepper, vinegar and jam in a small bowl. Whip together with wire whip or fork. Slowly add in olive oil and mix until smooth.  For a smoother consistency, process dressing in a blender. Serve 1 tablespoon of dressing with each salad. Yield: 4 servings

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian in the Wellness Program at the Essentia Health St. Mary’s-Heart & Vascular Center in Duluth. Contact her at bonnie.brost@essentiahealth.org.

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