Now that I’m bipedal again and regaining strength in my foot, I’m focussing on getting back in shape. Part of that is increasing my exercise (both strength and cardio) and the other part is some dietary modifications to get a bit leaner and improve my general health.
In terms of diet, the more I learn about berries, the more I want to eat them (and the more of them I want to eat).
All berries are high in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, and low in sugar and calories. But for today’s post I’ll pick two–blueberries and goji berries–and review some of the research.
Blueberries for the Brain
Blueberries contain anthocyanins, water-soluble blue/purple pigments that are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Research is piling up indicating that anthocyanins may have neuroprotective or even neuroregenerative effects. Eating blueberries regularly may improve memory and help protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (as does niacinamide, which I wrote about recently).
Some of the research:
We usually keep a bag or two of wild frozen organic blueberries in the freezer, and add them to smoothies, yogurt, or just eat them straight (my daughter started the trend of eating frozen blueberries as a dessert; Kia and I have hopped on the bandwagon).
A few years ago I noticed a trend in my health-tracking spreadsheet: days I rated as “excellent” in terms of mood and/or energy levels were often associated with eating goji berries. There is a ton of marketing material surrounding goji berries that makes all kinds of ridiculous health claims, but there may be something special about goji berries (aka “wolf berries”).
Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. This article provides a good overview.
There isn’t much published clinical research on goji berries. This small study found that drinking goji berry juice was associated with subjective feelings of enhanced well-being and happiness. But the same study has been criticized (too small, and funded by the goji juice company).
This article provides a balanced take on goji berry health benefits, focussing on the carotenoid zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin (wikipedia) along with lutein (another carotenoid) accumulate in the macula (the center of the retina) and may protect against age-related macular degeneration by absorbing blue light.
Goji berries may also enhance immune function. This study indicated that goji berries may protect against flu (in mice).
I usually purchase dried goji berries in bulk from whole foods. They’re expensive, but also surprisingly filling. Also they don’t taste that great (they’re sweet, but have a kind of hay-like flavor) so I’m unlikely to overeat them.
Plant pigments (like yellow lutein, red zeaxanthin, and blue-purple anthocyanins) protect against various forms of cellular damage, including (but not limited to) oxidative stress from UV light. In humans, there are benefits to blue pigment in our brains, and red and yellow pigments in our eyes.
Eating significant amounts of colorful foods appears to provide real biological benefits. Since those foods also tend to be low in calories and high in vitamins, and tasty, there are plenty of reasons to pile them onto your plate.
Here’s a more complete list of foods sources for each of these biologically active food pigments:
Anthocyanin in foods (chart from wikipedia entry).
|Food source||Anthocyanin content
in mg per 100 g
|Queen Garnet plum||277|
|Purple corn (Z. mays L.)||1,642|
|Purple corn leaves||10x more than in kernels|
Lutein and zeaxanthin are often measured together in foods, as is the case in the chart below. Red foods like red bell peppers, paprika, and goji berries are high in the latter, yellow and green foods high in the former.
Lutein and zeaxanthin in foods (chart from this article)
|Food||Serving||Lutein + Zeaxanthin (mg)|
|Spinach, frozen, cooked||1 cup||29.8|
|Kale, frozen, cooked||1 cup||25.6|
|Turnip greens, frozen, cooked||1 cup||19.5|
|Collards, frozen, cooked||1 cup||18.5|
|Dandelion greens, cooked||1 cup||9.6|
|Mustard greens, cooked||1 cup||8.3|
|Summer squash, cooked||1 cup||4.0|
|Peas, frozen, cooked||1 cup||3.8|
|Winter squash, baked||1 cup||2.9|
|Pumpkin, cooked||1 cup||2.5|
|Brussel sprouts, frozen, cooked||1 cup||2.4|
|Broccoli, frozen, cooked||1 cup||2.0|
|Sweet yellow corn, boiled||1 cup||1.5|
|Avocado, raw||1 medium||0.4|
|Egg yolk, raw||1 large||0.2|
So enjoy your berries and other colorful foods! Here’s to your health and happiness (berry enhanced, or not).