The Berry Latest

Japan is in the grips of a berry boom. Companies like Nippon Ham, Itoen and Meiji will be marketing berry products such as cranberry, blueberry and bilberry for their health benefits. The question is: should you be consuming them? Yes, if you care about your eyesight and general health. Jeffrey Peterson dishes out the juice about berry health benefits.

Food as medicine
Hypocrites once advised, "Let your food be your medicine." Today, as links are made between diet and the promotion of good health, we appreciate his wisdom. My Grandma use to say that blueberries are good for eyesight and for reducing unsightly varicose veins. Blueberry juice used to be used as a remedy to cure a common cough. Who knows, perhaps some of these folk medicine "cures" will be validated by science.

Science and neutraceuticals
The term neutraceutical refers to "substances that may be considered food or part of a food and provide medical or health benefits, including prevention and treatment of disease." The term was coined in 1989 by The Foundation for Innovation in Medicine. Blueberries are gaining new importance among neutraceuticals as scientists examine the phytochemical (active compounds occurring in fruits, vegetables, grains and herbs) content of foods. Research at the USDA Center on Aging, Tufts University (Boston), put blueberries at the top of their list of some 40 fruits, juices and vegetables in antioxidant activity. Their research also found that blueberries contain over 40 cancer-preventive compounds. Also found in blueberries are vitamins C, E, and beta carotene, all antioxidants.

Blueberries and eyesight
Europeans have thought for centuries that blueberries improved eyesight. Plants of the species Vaccinium, which include highbush blueberries, European bilberries (a fruit resembling the blueberry), and other berries, contain a unique pigment called anthocyanin which is believed to help strengthen eyesight. Royal Air Force bomber pilots used to consume bilberries during World War II to improve night vision. Studies in Japan have also indicated a relationship between anthocyanin and good eyesight, and health food stores here sell bilberry and blueberry powders.

The neutraceutical market is well established in both Japan and Europe, where phytochemicals are studied for benefits in everything from prevention of cancer to restoring eyesight, alleviating depression and reducing blood pressure.

The benefits of cranberry
A traditional Native American food is making a comeback in the world of cuisine and health. Researchers at the University of Illinois in the US have been studying the health effects of wild blueberries and cranberries since 1994. In preliminary studies, they found blueberry flavonoids inhibit enzymes involved in the initial stages of cancer development.

The University of Illinois research team, led by Dr. Mary Ann Smith, also studied the effects of the proanthocyanidins, another class of phytochemicals, which preliminary research indicates may be beneficial to cardiovascular health. Proanthocyanidins are also found in cranberries. Other research conducted by Tufts researchers indicates that a diet high in berries may possibly improve your cognition (mental capacity).

For years, the lay public and medical community alike believed drinking cranberry juice decreased the risk and helped alleviate symptoms of urinary tract infections. Folk medicine advises cranberry juice for urinary infections and kidney stones. Evidence, however, was lacking until a Harvard University study proved that regular consumption of cranberry juice does in fact help maintain urinary tract health. It appears that cranberry juice inhibits E. coli ability to stick to the urinary track wall and cause urinary tract infections.

Jam it
You' probably thinking that the benefits are great but can you afford the price? According to researchers, you don't need to buy the health food variety of berries, which are often expensive, to get the benefits. Fillings in cakes, pies, jams and other foods offers some of the same benefits. The next time you go to the supermarket, don't pass up that blueberry jam so popular in Japan.

Jeffrey A. Peterson is a certified fitness trainer and specialist in sports conditioning and founder of IMPACT. You can contact him at email or call 048-668-1775.

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