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The Health Benefits of Berries
Long before winter comes, black bears in the forest spend all their time eating everything they can sink their teeth into. During the summer, bears eat and eat and eat, trying to get as fat as they possibly can, and when the weather turns cold, they look for a place to curl up and then they sleep the winter away. Now, the habits of bears might not seem like something you should try to follow. After all, doctors are always warning us humans that we shouldn’t overeat, and that we shouldn’t spend all of our time lying around, doing nothing. But there is one part of the black bear’s habits that you should actually try to imitate, because it would be good for your health. Black bears eat a lot of berries, of many different varieties, such as raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries.
Berries contain natural sugars and wonderful flavors. Unlike many other foods that are really good for you, but which don’t taste good, berries taste great. And unlike many foods that taste great but which aren’t good for you, berries are among the most health friendly foods you can eat. It’s only been within the last decade that scientists have started to pay a lot of attention to the health benefits of berries. And what researchers are learning about the health benefits of berries has a lot of exciting potential for human diets.
One of the first major experiments on the health benefits of berries took place at Tufts University about ten years ago. Researchers were working with a group of aging rats. They fed them diets of various foods to see what the effects would be. Among the foods they tested were strawberries, blueberries, and spinach. Now these rats were fairly old in terms of “rat years”. In fact, their age was equivalent to humans about 70 years old. The foods the scientists tested were all very high in beneficial antioxidants, so the scientists wanted to see if any of these foods would boost the physical and mental capabilities of these aging rats. The researchers found that while several of these foods seemed to offer some antioxidant protection, the rats that had been fed blueberries were the only ones that actually improved in their abilities. In fact, the rats which had been fed blueberries were able to perform like much younger rats! This was a very exciting find, and the scientists then wanted to find what it was in the blueberries that produced this very beneficial effect. It turns out that the chemicals responsible for making these aging rats act mentally younger and perkier were the pigments in the skin of the blueberries.
The compounds that give ripe berries their beautiful colors are the very substances that have such strong anti-oxidant powers. And antioxidants are compounds that help repair some of the damage that happens to our body cells every day. Scientists have discovered that the darker the berry, the more health benefits it has! Eating two thirds of a cup of blueberries will give you as much anti-oxidant protection as five servings of apples or squash. The dark pigments in these berries seem to offer protection against cardiovascular disease, degenerative eye disease such as cataracts, and may offer some help in preventing some cancers, and bladder infections. If the exciting results of the rat studies turn out to also hold true for humans, it may mean that compounds in these dark berries may help protect brain cells from the degenerative diseases of aging. You can get this fantastic antioxidant protection whether you eat your berries fresh, frozen, or dried. You can eat berries raw, add them to your favorite cereals, or make a smoothie drink with various berries, fruits, milk and yoghurt. Get creative and find ways to mix berries into your favorite recipes. In North America, blueberries are available fresh or frozen year round. If you can’t get fresh berries, dried berries are also filled with very concentrated levels of the valuable antioxidants.
If you live in a place where blueberries are not easily available, look for other fruits and berries that have very dark red or dark purple colors. Foods such as pomegranates, bilberries, cherries, black raspberries, saskatoons or serviceberries also have high levels of these very beneficial dark pigments. These foods offer benefits similar to the benefits of blueberries. So, think about incorporating at least one habit of bears into your lifestyle – and make berries a frequent part of your diet! ZZZZZZ .
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