Eye on extension: Have a berry healthy summer

VALLEY — Berries, berries, berries! These colorful little fruits are not only delicious but also one of the top sources for phytonutrients.

What is a phytonutrient? “Phyto” comes from the Greed work for plant. So think of them simply as nutrients that come from plants. However, unlike vitamins and minerals, there is no specified amount or recommended daily intake of phytonutrients. And that’s probably a good thing, because there are over 25,000 of them!

Even though there is no recommended daily intake, phytonutrients contribute to our health in many positive ways. They play powerful roles throughout the body, from contributing to immunity to getting rid of toxins, to protecting DNA from damage. They are found in all plant foods, from beans and nuts, to fruits and vegetables, to tea and spices.

Berries are one of the foods with the highest levels of phytonutrients; in fact, phytonutrients are what give berries their vibrant colors and unique flavors. Each type of berry has its own mix of phytonutrients along with its own unique properties and health benefits.

Fight Cancer:  Phytonutrients can fight cancer in a number of ways. One way is by acting as antioxidants. Antioxidants help alleviate oxidation, a chemical process that can damage cells in the body. Too much oxidation is a hallmark of cancer, so eating a variety of berries may help prevent and fight cancer. 

Reduce Heart Disease Risk: Eating berries may reduce risk factors associated with heart disease, including reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Phytonutrients found in blueberries may reduce blood pressure and improve the flexibility of arteries in women with hypertension.

Protect Your Brain:  Studies show berries may help the communication between neurons, improve cognition, and even prevent neurodegeneration. For example, eating blueberries has been shown to improve cognition in older adults, and strawberries may lower inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity, two important factors in brain health.

…and More! Phytonutrients may also reduce the risk of many other diseases, such as osteoporosis, cataracts, and asthma. Each type of berry has different phytonutrients, so choose a variety of berries to get the full range of benefits!

Ideas for Enjoying Berries This Summer

* Choose a bowl of fresh or frozen berries for dessert, topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

* Dress up a green salad with berries and nuts.

* Top a bowl of yogurt with a cup of your favorite berries. 

* Instead of flavored yogurts, which often have added sugars, top plain yogurt with berries and just a bit of honey.

* Cook berries for a sweeter sensation. Cooking berries can increase the antioxidant power of some phytonutrients. When making a berry crisp try leaving out the sugar (or reducing it by half) to let the sweetness and flavor of the berries shine through.

For more information contact Mary Ellen Fleming at 852-7381, or visit the CSU Extension Office for the San Luis Valley Area at 1899 E. Hwy 160 in Monte Vista.  Please feel free to visit our website at:  http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu for information about services provided.

Extension programs are available to all without discrimination, Colorado State University Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado Counties cooperating.