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
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.