Berried Treasure

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If you’re tempted by that stash of chocolate left over from Easter, you might want to consider an equally sweet, but far healthier treat. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bag of Cadbury’s Buttons as much as the next girl, but with a family history of Type 2 diabetes, the Thurlows are keen to cut down on sugar as much as possible. Luckily for us, there are great, natural alternatives which combine that ‘hit’ of sweetness we crave with a multitude of nutritional benefits. The fibre content of fresh berries means they take longer to digest and the sugar is released more slowly, avoiding those sugar spikes we experience after consuming sugary drinks or sweets, and the water content helps to make us feel full for longer.

Perhaps the most popular of all are strawberries, those appealingly heart-shaped berries which are often the first fruit we persuade our kids to eat. A cup of strawberries holds more than enough Vitamin C for your daily needs, and provides potassium which is beneficial for the overall health of your eyes. According to research, they may also help to maintain correct brain function, and have anti-inflammatory properties to counter-act gout and arthritis. And if you’re enjoying a bowl of strawberries and cream outdoors this summer, you’ll be glad to know that the fruit contains chemicals which help against sunburn (you might also want some sunscreen and a hat!) If you’re lucky, you may find some wild strawberries in your garden, which have tiny, but delicious, fruit.

And what about blueberries? This unassuming fruit is packed with antioxidants which protect our organs from toxins and prevent cell damage. They are thought to strengthen blood vessels, which may help those suffering from conditions such as varicose veins. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals which are harmful, naturally occurring substances which cause our bodies to age. In tests, eating a cup of blueberries per day (perhaps with your cereal, stirred into yoghurt or just as a snack), helps to improve memory. Blueberries are recommended to students as ‘brain food’ as well as to those who hope to slow the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

If you’re keen to grow your own berries and have space for a patch of raspberry bushes, the plants seem to be indestructible, so much so that last summer we were eating raspberries with every meal! But being obliged to eat a fat-free, high-fibre, low GI food, which also tastes delicious is no bad thing. Traditionally raspberries have been used to combat PMT and labour pains, and make a refreshing tea. Their variety of nutrients is reputed to regulate blood pressure and heart rate, as well as healthy bones. If you have so many raspberries you don’t know what to do with them, you could try using them for a facial. Simply mix a cup of raspberries with a spoonful of honey and apply it to your damp face. Leave it for about 15 minutes then rinse off thoroughly. On a more professional level, beauty companies are utilising the nutrients found in berries in their products, particularly for maintenance of elasticity in the skin and repair of sun-damage.

Finally, if you’re reading this late at night, unable to sleep, you could try berries to cure your insomnia. The slow-burning carbohydrates help to produce serotonin, the chemical in the brain which helps us to calm down at the end of the day, as well as magnesium for muscle relaxation. Blueberry smoothie, anyone?

Claire Thurlow

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