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I recommend one daily serving of berries (half cup fresh or frozen berries, or a quarter cup dried) and three daily servings of other fruit (a medium-sized fruit, a cup cut-up fruit, or a quarter cup dried). Why do I single out berries?

Berries are the healthiest fruits—due in part to their plant pigments. They evolved to have bright, contrasting colors to attract fruit-eating critters to help disperse their seeds, and the same molecular characteristics that give berries such vibrant colors may account for some of their antioxidant abilities. Berries are second only to herbs and spices as the most antioxidant-packed food category. As a group, they average nearly 10 times more antioxidants than other fruits and vegetables, and exceed 50 times more than animal-based foods.

Berries offer potential protection against cancer, a boost to the immune system, and a guard for the liver and brain. An American Cancer Society study of nearly 100,000 men and women found that those who ate the most berries appeared significantly less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. Indeed, for disease prevention, berries of all colors have “emerged as champions,” according to the head of the Bioactive Botanical Research Laboratory. The purported anticancer properties of berry compounds have been attributed to their apparent ability to counteract, reduce, and repair damage resulting from oxidative stress and inflammation. Berries may also boost our levels of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that’s a vital member of the immune system’s rapid-response team against virus-infected and cancerous cells.

Special antioxidant pigments in berries and dark-green leafies may make them the brain foods of the fruit and vegetable kingdom. Harvard University researchers, using data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed the diets and health of 16,000 women, found that women who consumed at least one serving of blueberries and two servings of strawberries each week had slower rates of cognitive decline by as much as two and a half years compared with those who didn’t eat berries. These results suggest that simply eating a handful of berries every day may slow our brain’s aging by more than two years.

Image Credit: Amanda Rae. This image has been modified.

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