As the autumn months approach, our minds often wander to cooler evenings, warming soups and roaring fires. Quite often, we forget that autumn, especially September, is a great month for delicious, sweet blackberries. Blackberries are a member of the Rosaceae family, along with strawberries and raspberries. Blueberries and cranberries, on the other hand, are members of the Ericaceae family. Blackberries are popular the world over, including in Ireland and the UK, and are used in a variety of ways.
Health Benefits of Berries
Blackberries are nutrient-dense. They are low in calories, have a high water and fibre content and are a source of many vitamins and minerals, including the natural antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. Antioxidants fight free radicals that contribute to aging and disease development. My favourite blackberry recipe at the moment is my Banana and Blackberry Bread which is full of delicious sweet fruit. I love to have a slice or two for breakfast, alongside my non-negotiable cup of coffee.
For the best health benefits, include a variety of berries in your diet. Choose a mix of the different colours of berries as the different colours represent different nutrieints within, e.g. the nutrient content of blackberries, blueberries and strawberries would all vary slightly because they are all different colours. Raspberries are high in fibre while blackcurrants are one of the best berry sources of vitamin C. That said, no berry is more or less healthy than they ther. A study of fruits in America ranked strawberries as the fourth most powerful fruit in terms of antioxidants. A quick and simple way of including a variety of berries in your diet is to add them to your overnight oats or including them in smoothies
Berries aren’t so much associated with savoury dishes as they are with sweet dishes. However, that doesn\’t stop me eating berries at dinner time. My favourite way to include berries in savoury dishes is to add sliced strawberries to my Drop Chef salads and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. The flavour combination is delicious.
Fun Fact: A pineberry is a white strawberry with red seeds and a pineapple-like flavour.
Are tinned and froze fruits healthy?
Research shows that by the time fruits and vegetables are consumed, the nutritional value of fresh, frozen and tinned fruits and vegetables are relatively similar. I am an advocator of eating fruit and vegetables that are seasonal. However, it is important to praise that advances in growing, processing, shipment and preserving techniques that mean it is possible to get your hands on most fruit and vegetables, including berries, all year round. Including a variety of fruit and vegetables in the diet is important for good health: Lots of variety = Lots of colour = Lots of nutrients. Healthy eating guidelines for Ireland suggest that we eat 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
Have you heard of GIY?
GIY stands for Grow It Yourself. If you fancy growing your own berries next summer, strawberries are a great place to start. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a large garden, strawberries will grow in flower pots, window boxes and even in hanging baskets. Your garden centre will advise on how to get started and the best variety to grow. Once you’re up and running, remember to water regularly, use plant food often and allow exposure to the sunshine. Once picked, eat the strawberries immediately or store in the fridge, discarding any perished fruit that might damage the other berries. Store surplus strawberries in the freezer and enjoy later in the year when the season is over.
Amy Meegan, BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition, UCD