The Case for Adding Berries to More Meals

Image Credit: Vegan Feast Catering / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Add Beans, Berries, and Greens to More Meals

After we eat, our bodies create free radicals in the process of breaking down our food. That’s why we need to eat antioxidant-rich foods with every meal to counteract this oxidation caused by metabolism. We can’t just have berries on our oatmeal in the morning to meet our Minimum Recommended Daily Allowance of Antioxidants and call it a day. Each and every meal should contain high antioxidant foods, which means that each and every meal should contain whole plant foods. Antioxidant rich foods originate from the plant kingdom, due to the thousands of different natural antioxidant compounds naturally created by the plants we eat.

Consuming fruits—which are high in phenolic phytonutrients—increases the antioxidant capacity of the blood. When fruits are consumed along with high fat and refined carbohydrate “pro-oxidant and pro-inflammatory” meals, they may help counterbalance their negative effects. Given the content and availability of fat and sugars in the Western diet, regular consumption of phenolic-rich foods, particularly in conjunction with meals, appears to be a prudent strategy to maintain oxidative balance and health.

And of all fruits, berries may be the best source of phytonutrients. In the video, How to Reach the Antioxidant “RDA”, you can see an example of the spike in oxidation caused by a Mediterranean meal of pasta, tomato sauce, olive oil, and fried fish. Obviously, given the spike of oxidation, there were not enough tomatoes. Add a glass of red wine, which contains berry phytonutrients from grapes, and we can bring down, but not blunt completely, the level of oxidation. So the meal needs even more plants.

In a study I profile in the video, researchers gave subjects standard breakfast items, resulting in lots of oxidized cholesterol in their bloodstream one to six hours after the meal. But all it took was a cup of strawberries with that same breakfast to at least keep the meal from contributing to further oxidation. In my Food Antioxidants and Cancer video, you can see a comparison of breakfast with berries versus breakfast without.

If we don’t consume high-antioxidant plants with breakfast, by lunch we’ll already be in oxidative debt. Let’s say we ate a standard American breakfast at 6 a.m. If we didn’t eat that cup of strawberries with breakfast, by the time lunch rolls around we’d already be starting out in the hyper-oxidized state, and lunch could just make things worse. Since western eating patterns include eating multiple meals a day, including snacks, one can only speculate on the level of biological unrest.

If we have some berries for breakfast, at least we’d be starting out at baseline for lunch. This acute protection is likely due to the antioxidant effects of the strawberry phytonutrients. What if, by lunch, we could be even better than baseline? How about our meals actually improving our antioxidant status?

If, for example, we eat a big bunch of red grapes with our meal, the antioxidant level of our bloodstream goes up and our bodies are in positive antioxidant balance for a few hours. We get the same result after eating enough blueberries. And imagine if in these ensuing hours before our next meal we were sipping green tea, hibiscus tea or even whole cranberries? (See Pink Juice with Green Foam). We’d have a nice antioxidant surplus all day long.

One group of researchers conclude: “These data provide an interesting perspective for advising individuals on food choice when consuming a moderate- to high-fat meal is unavoidable.” (Unavoidable? So what, if we’re locked in a fast food joint or something?) They suggest chasing whatever we’re forced to eat with some berries. Reminds me of those studies I’ve talked about suggesting that smokers should eat lots of kale and broccoli to reduce the oxidative damage to their DNA. Of course, they could also just not smoke.

In a single day, the systemic stress of all the fat in our blood and “redox imbalance” (being in a mild pro-oxidant state after meals) may seem trivial. Over time, however, these daily insults can lead to problems such as heart disease, contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths a year (See The Power of NO).

I strive to eat berries every day and so should everyone. If we are going to drink wine, red is preferable (See Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine)

See how quickly stress can eat our antioxidants in: Antioxidant Level Dynamics.

I used a similar meal-components technique to illustrate the potent antioxidant power of spices. See Antioxidants in a Pinch.

All fruits and veggies aren’t the same. I make this point in different ways in videos like Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better? and Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants.

I have a series of videos on which foods have the most antioxidants. See Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods. Note these are measured based on test tube tests. There are more sophisticated ways to measure antioxidant activity. See Anti Up on the Veggies.

What’s the cheapest common source of whole food antioxidants? See Superfood Bargains for a dollar per dollar comparison. What’s the cheapest uncommon source? See Dragon’s Blood.

Are there diminishing returns to getting too many antioxidants? See Maxing Out on Antioxidants.

So if we have that bowl of berries in the morning to meet our minimum daily antioxidant needs can we just call it a day?. Hint: the title of my follow-up video is: Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

29 responses to “Add Beans, Berries, and Greens to More Meals

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  1. When I bring up how important antioxidants are for good health, arguments are raised regarding the role of oxidants in oxidative-based apoptosis. My question is, will oxidative-based apoptosis still be able to be carried out by a cell even when it is flooded with antioxidants? Are the hazards of smokers supplementing with vitamin A & E which has been correlated with higher rates of cancer, due to the vitamins (which are antioxidants) inhibiting the cellular process of apoptosis? Is it just supplementing with antioxidants that can be disruptive to apoptosis or can one consume too many antioxidants from whole foods?

  2. berries have one of the highest rates of oesticide spray. I buy organic, incl, frozen, but it’s expensive and sometimes the certification is suspect. I buy conventional (not organic) skinned fruits like mango & avocado. With berries eg strawberries am I better to eat less rather than eat with pesticides?

    1. Me: Good for you for trying to eat a lot of berries. And a very good question you have. Dr. Greger has a great blog post where he puts pesticide consumption into perspective. :

      “A new study calculated that if half the U.S. population ate just one more serving of conventional fruits and vegetables, 20,000 cases of cancer could be prevented. At the same time the added pesticide consumption could cause up to 10 extra cancer cases. So by eating conventional produce we may get a tiny bump in cancer risk, but that’s more than compensated by the dramatic drop in risk that accompanies whole food plant consumption. Even if all we had to eat was the most contaminated produce the benefits would far outweigh any risks.”


      I translate this bit of info into: Eat organic when you can, but don’t stress about it when you can’t.

      Happily, there is a way to take this advice a step further to minimize your risks without completely depleting the pocketbook. Every year, the Environmental Working Group actually measures pesticide levels in fruits and veggies–after those fruits and veggies have been prepared in the way people would normally eat them. (For example, peeling a banana or washing first.) If you scroll down on the following page, you will see a list for the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen”.

      I bring your attention to these lists because I think they are very helpful for people who can’t afford to eat organic for everything. You could use these lists to help you decide when it is worth putting down money for organic and when it might be safer to buy non-organic.

      I hope this helps!

  3. Dr. Greger is a crusader for the true nature of medicine, prevention. This article truly underscores how we have the power to improve our health and improve our lives. His detailed literature reviews show that beans, greens, and berries, are some of the most powerful ways to improve our health. Spinach, broccoli, onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, carrots, and beets are some of the most powerful cancer prevention foods there are and, understanding that 40 percent of Americans get cancer, are disproportionately valuable to health. Berries are filled with nutrition and can help the mind age gracefully or even improve as
    it ages, making a cup a day necessary for living longer. Even a cup of raisins (he recommends golden raisins) count, Beans are the most powerful tool at managing many chronic diseases we can get, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other age related diseases considered to be unavoidable by some. I think Dr. Greger is ahead of his time in trying to stop end of life diseases when so many doctors are busy treating colds, coughs, and bruises. With a rosehip tea and a cup of spinach with its Vitamin K, he might put medicine out of business. I think beans, greens, and berries are necessary for health. If he made this into a Fibonacci, he could add two or five more things, like nuts (half your heart disease risk and some cancers), dark chocolate, green tea, fresh fruit, and whole grain are also really valuable. His food recommendations could eliminate heart disease, add ten or more years to life, guarantee living to 85, reduce risk of colon cancer, improve mood, limit most cancers, restrict risk of stroke or cancer, reduce or manage heart disease and diabetes, reduce your risk of heart disease and sudden heart disease, make you seem five-14 years younger, and limit your ability to get metabolic syndrome and lose weight. These foods include probiotics, grape fruit, orange juice, cherries, ten cups of green tea a day, Lemons, green pepper, beans, black raspberries, sunflower seeds. strawberries, bilberries, yellow squash, pistachios, tomatoes, soy, broccoli, watermelon, beets, garlic, flax seeds, seaweed, blueberries, whole grain, grapes or grape juice, nuts, cruciferous vegetable, dark chocolate. lentils, herb tea, sweet potatoes, clove, turmeric, ginger, cranberry juice, pumpkins, apples, hibiscus tea, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, amla, seaweed, carrots, and Tabasco sauce. Dr. Greger’s recommendation to add oregano, chai tea, hibiscus tea with alma, goji berries, cloves, dried pomegrante seeds, and flax seed powder to every diet would mean nobody would ever be short of antioxidants, and he notesthat we do indeed have a daily required amount of them at more than 10,000 a day.

    1. “ten cups of green tea a day” Wow, where is the room for water? After drinking tea and water there wouldn’t be room for food. Or time for it either. LOL

      1. Yes thank you. They say health benefits of green tea start at 2 cups a day and continue in the video called the “Asian Paradox.” Seven to ten are recommended here. My opinion is that drinking more water is good for you, weight lifters know to drink at least 8 cups of water a day. Do you mean to drink that and tea? I think you can drink tea (or even matcha!) instead of the water.

    2. Many of these foods are very good. But it’s also important to make sure that they are alkaline (natural), with a pH rating of 7.1 or above. Alkaline food nourishes the body and protects the mucus membrane in the body, that protective lining that helps prevent disease. Some beans are highly starchy, with a pH rating well below 7.1 and research and reports have shown that soybeans and soy lecithin, the byproduct, harm reproductive organs and the immune system. A good book to read about alkaline food is Sojourn to Honduras Sojourn to Healing: Why An Herbalist’s View Matters More Today Than Ever Before.

      I am new to this website but I am enjoying reading the information.

      1. Dr. Greger has shown that an unhealthy diet, smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity are the main sources of much of the disease in the country, including America’s three leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, and stoke. “Death in America is largely a foodborne illness,” Dr. Greger summarizes in this video: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, In that video he said that nut consumption was the highest factor tied to long life, together with fiber (plants) consumption, and jogging. Eating a cup of oatmeal a day, two handfuls of nuts a week, and jogging four hours a week have the same individual benefit in increasing a woman’s life. Each 20 grams of beans extra a person eats a day reduces their risk of death by eight percent. Is there anything healthier than beans? Maybe roots like ginger, garlic, and beets which are perhaps the most cancer preventative plants in the categories of spices, vegetables, and root crop, are truly worth eating weekly or more often, as my humble offered opinion. I can see that you feel soybeans are unhealthy. They lower the pH of the body, and soy letchithin is an emulsifier in many foods and many fast foods. Soy has been said to have heart health benefits and is an unusual complete plant protein. Perhaps the fact that soy is meat like, its methione, makes it unhealthy. Without soy, beans and rice are just as complete. I would love to eat pH akalizing foods like tea, broccoli, and apples. Dr. Greger said its not just the number of fruits and vegetables you eat but also the quality of fruits you eat: instead of a banana, try blueberries, instead of ground pepper, try oregano, instead of coffee, try chai tea, instead of lettuce, try purple cabbage, instead of canned peaches, try fresh apples. I am interested in your reference. I love stories of native healers and ethnobotanical plant prospecting. I am really interested in natural products medicine, in getting medicines from plants. Now most drugs are rationally developed at great expenses to patents, with many plants being unused or forgotten as medicines, and many hundreds of faked compounds failing after countless iterations, despite the fact that half of drugs were once discovered from life, and many are still being cultivated for medicine. I am really interested in this site because it shows how whole plants can be used as medicine throughout life. Could you find medicine in garlic? In tomato? Could you use a plant nutrient as a medicine instead of a drug? Could you find the health compound in beans and make it into a drug? Possibly! Maybe it’s a similar idea. I think medicine could get close. Our native passionfruit was a source of an anti anxiety drug. How many others are in Passionflower genus of the tropics? How many fruit have compounds in their red skin to help animals remember where they were found to keep them evolving to be red to be edible to be spread? How many drugs are in the sap of the Poinsettia plant? Health is evolving with us. Herbalists help adapt to the new diseases of the era, an tropical botanists were unable to find cures to metabolic syndrome. Several are presented here: fenugreek, hibsicus tea, beans, amla, and nuts.

        1. Thank you for the response. And thank you for your interest in the reference Sojourn to Honduras Sojourn to Healing. I learned about the importance of alkaline (natural) food from the book’s main subject pathologist and herbal medicine specialist Dr. Sebi. In my research I was able to confirm what Dr. Sebi says about acid and alkaline food. I found that popular foods such as garlic, navy beans, and peanuts have pH levels well below alkaline levels of 7.1. Garlic, a toxic substance, has a pH value of 2.9. It is not an alkaline food. It is considered a good cancer prevention food and good for preventing heart disease, yet it is not alkaline. Healthy human blood is alkaline with a pH value of 7.365, so garlic, according to Dr. Sebi and the research, should be removed from your daily diet. I agree with you on most things about food, except foods that are not alkaline. Peanuts are highly starchy, navy beans and kidney beans as well. Many beans are hybrids, cultivated in laboratories so their molecular structure has changed to an unnatural state and toxic state. My research found the following:

          “Raw kidney beans contain relatively high amounts of phytohemagglutinin,
          and thus are more toxic than most other bean varieties if not
          pre-soaked and subsequently heated to the boiling point for at least 10
          minutes. The U.S Food and Drug Administration recommends boiling for 30 minutes to ensure they reach a sufficient temperature long enough to completely destroy the toxin.[2] However, cooking at the lower temperature of 80 °C (176 °F), such as in a slow cooker, can increase this danger and raise the toxin level up to fivefold.[3]”

          It is important to share with people foods that are alkaline (natural), foods with pH values of 7.1 and above. These are the foods that protect and nourish the body. Remember, healthy human blood is alkaline, with a pH rating of 7.365. So the foods we eat must have pH ratings the same as or close to 7.365. For more information about alkaline food and the pH scale read Sojourn to Honduras Sojourn to Healing: Why An Herbalist’s View Matters More Today Than Ever Before.

        2. Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, are far healthier than many beans. And soybeans? Highly toxic. Please read what Dr. Joseph Mercola has written about soy and soybeans.

          “Who hasn’t heard of the marvels of soy? The marketing
          bandwagon has touted soy as the perfect health food for decades. But
          could something that sounds so healthful actually be dangerous?

          If you take the time to look into the actual science, then the answer is yes. Thousands of studies link soy
          to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune system breakdown, thyroid
          dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility
          — even cancer and heart disease.

          One of the primary reasons it would be wise for you to avoid soy is that more than 90 percent of soybeans grown
          in the United States are genetically modified. Since the introduction
          of genetically engineered foods in 1996, we’ve had an upsurge in low
          birth weight babies, infertility, and other problems in the U.S., and
          animal studies have shown devastating effects from genetically engineered soy including allergies, sterility, birth defects, and offspring death rates up to five times higher than normal.

          Soybean crops are also heavily sprayed with chemical herbicides, such glyphosate, which a French team of researchers have found to be carcinogenic.

          — even organically grown soybeans — naturally contain “antinutrients”
          such as saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, trypsin inhibitors, goitrogens
          and phytoestrogens. Traditional fermentation destroys these
          antinutrients, which allows your body to enjoy soy’s nutritional
          benefits. However, most Westerners do not consume fermented soy, but
          rather unfermented soy, mostly in the form of soymilk, tofu, TVP, and soy infant formula.

          Unfermented soy has the following 10 adverse affects on your body:

          Please go to the article to learn what those 10 adverse effects are. You’ll be glad you did if you care about your health.

          1. Thank you, Chick Peas are very healthy. Beans are really recommended here. This site strongly recommends the vegan diet, and soy is a mainstay for those who can’t eat meat. I think there really is a difference of opinion if soy is healthy. The FDA has approved soy for heart health: “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of (name of food) provides ____ grams of soy protein.” I do not question their science, but regularly challenge what kinds of recommendations the federal government makes with regards to diet and exercise. I don’t think we have data on which bean is better than another. Peanuts are a bean, and eating peanut butter everyday was one of the most surprising findings linked to long life.

            1. Soy, a mainstay in diet? Chickpeas are the healthier and life-sustaining alternative. Please do the research on soy, soybeans, and soy lecithin and post it. Your readers will appreciate reading your findings. Do you know that there is a campaign to get Starbucks to replace soy milk with coconut milk and almond milk? Yes, it’s true. Go to Starbucks’s website and read all the comments about soy, and how Starbucks customers want coconut milk or almond milk instead.

  4. I am still confused about how to get the amount of recommended antioxidants by looking at the list of 3,000 foods. Will you help me understand how to convert from their numbers to the 12,000 units recommended daily. For example, if it says mmol/100g is 2.8, what does that mean in terms of units and serving size? THANK YOU!!

    1. Dr. Greger has recommended one Chai tea, oregano, cloves, hibiscus tea, dried apples, golden raisins, pecans, walnuts, cocoa, matcha, blueberries, amla, and flax seed. He has recipes! His pink foam Hibiscus tea, super pumpkin pie (make it with two chai tea bags opened!), and his breakfast smoothie have huge servings of antioxidants. Sprinkle oregano on most foods, always have a few leaves of red lettuce, or purple cabbage, drink a chai tea a day and sip hibiscus most days, cloves can go on anything, and for a snack walnuts, golden raisins, and dried apples can’t be beat. Cloves, rosemary, tumeric with pepper, fresh garlic, and ginger (or even dried ginger snacks) are very powerful anti-cancer spices, and oregano is a real powerhouse. Dog Roses or Rose hips and Amla are chart toppers. He has listed foods specifically for anti-cancer benefit as well, these are lemons, cranberries, apples, garlic, beets, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, collards, pecans, peanuts, walnuts, cloves, ginger, tumeric with pepper, rosemary, hibiscus tea, dandelions tea, chamomile tea, matcha, white tea with lemon, are the best of the bunch for cancer prevention. Some foods are very antioxidant dense, like oregano and amla, others not so much. I don’t think they list ORAC units anytime soon, so knowing this, I think we’re saying to sip tea, eat nuts, and beans just to be safe.

        1. Dr. Greger recommends Flax seeds for reduction in breast cancer risk as well as for hypertension, he recommends them very highly. Chia seeds are a good source of fiber, but they are not often mentioned here. Thank you very much for reading what I have written here! Are you making a smoothee with Chia seeds? They are Incan and are the same seeds found in the Chia Pet. They must be very good for you. They are a pseudo grain. Do they have many health benefits?

  5. As far as the antioxidants in green tea, Dr. Neal Barnard (vegan doctor held in high regard) has stated clearly in one of his books that the aluminum content of tea is “significant” and for this reason tea consumption should be limited.

      1. I’ve read that tea trees by nature have a strong ability to absorb aluminum from the soil, whereas many other plants do not have this “ability”.

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