Summer is a great time of year for many reasons, one of which is the abundant supply of fresh berries. Although many varieties are available fresh or frozen year-round in the grocery store, there is nothing like the sweet satisfaction of fresh summertime berries.
Berries are as healthy as they are tasty. In general, they are a low fat, high fiber food full of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and numerous other vitamins and minerals. They are also full of health-promoting phytonutrients, which are compounds in plants that help protect them against environmental stressors and are beneficial to human health. In fact, scientific studies link the regular consumption of berries, fruits and vegetables with the prevention of cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and even conditions like asthma. If you want to know more about the antioxidant and phytonutrient content of foods like berries, take a look at www.nutrition.gov.
At the NC Research Campus, berries are one of the healthy foods under the microscope and sprouting in the greenhouse. Scientists are working to profile the phytonutrient content of berries to better understand their potential for preventing and treating diseases. Researchers are finding new ways to use phytonutrients as ingredients in food products and to breed healthier berry varieties that benefit farmers and consumers.
NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) has numerous findings published in peer-reviewed journals involving berries. In May 2013, for example, PHHI created and implemented a faster and more accurate method to screen for bioactive compounds like anthocyanins and phenolic acids. They’ve examined how commercial and home processing methods alter the phytonutrient composition of cranberries and, in turn, impact the health benefits.
The research team of Mary Ann Lila, PhD, director of PHHI, is advancing the use of a proprietary technology that concentrates the phytonutrients of berries, fruits and vegetables into shelf-stable flour that can be added to other foods to enhance the nutritional value. Studies have indicated that blueberry polyphenols concentrated into soybean flour using this method are effective in a mouse model at managing pre-diabetic conditions and potentially diabetes.
Through a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant, Lila is researching the use of the technology in the African country of Zambia to increase the nutrient content of foods where villagers do not have year-round access to fruits and vegetables.
Learn more about berry research at the NCRC.