A Last Grab for Berries


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


  • Antioxidants for Health /

  • A Berry Tart

 Lately I can’t resist buying a flat or two of berries from my local Farmer’s Market. I enjoy them raw, blended into smoothies, tossed in salads, cooked into savory and sweet sauces and baked into tarts and cheesecakes (healthful, reduced-fat of course). 


I toss  berries in the  “buckets” of fruit I pack up each morning for everyone in the family.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

A container of ready-to-eat fruit helps us remember to  include a couple of servings of fruit each day and keeps our snacking on the healthful track.


Berries make a stunning dessert, too, all alone or with a spoonful of light ice cream or frozen yogurt. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


Berries are a “two for one” treat – you get great taste and great nutrition, rolled into one.  Highly nutritious, they are one of the easiest ways to up your intake of fruits and vegetables.  Berries supply vitamin C, fiber and small amounts of vitamins A, E, calcium and selenium – but they’re also rich in health-promoting antioxidants. 


Eating all these colorful berries brought to mind a Wall Street Journal article I clipped a while ago by Laura Johannes, Testing Antioxidant Power of Foods (I didn’t clip the publication date) which explains that blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant levels of foods, 6,000 to 9,000 a cup – and even more for wild blueberries.  These antioxidant levels are called ORAC values, an acronym for “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity.”

 If you’re interested in food and nutrition you’ve probably seen ORAC values used to tout and compare the antioxidant power of foods, especially produce.  Well, you should know that these tests do not accurately reflect antioxidant power in the body.


In fact, they are so inaccurate that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) removed the ORAC database from the NDL website because the data was being misinterpreted and misused for food promotion purposes. 


Tests such as ORAC rely on “in vitro” or test-tube measurements of antioxidants that don’t reflect how these antioxidants are absorbed or used “in vivo” or in the body. Adding to the problem of inaccurate marketing communications is that companies use the term ORAC too broadly, and refer to the results of different tests which are not directly comparable.  (See Reference 1 below for a link to the USDA’s explanation.) 


Berries and other produce are still immensely good for you.  For decades, public health policy has called for US adults and children to eat more produce for reasons which include potential reductions in the risk of cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, lower body weight and reduced inflammatory symptoms in people with rheumatoid disease.  (Reference #2 below)


The mystery around how antioxidants work is being teased out in research as an article Berries: Sweetening Cancer Prevention (Reference #3 below) describes. 


Berries contain high concentrations of two types of antioxidants (flavonoid anthocyanins, which give berries color, and ellagitannins, the source of the polyphenol ellagic acid).  Both of these antioxidants are poorly absorbed into the blood so researchers have looked at cancers in parts of the body that come into direct contact with berries such as the esophagus, mouth and colon.  Animal studies show that freeze dried black raspberries or strawberries can inhibit esophageal cancer.


Other research shows that bacteria in the gut metabolize anthocyanins into metabolites that are better absorbed than the anthocyanins themselves and these metabolites may be cancer-protective. Blueberries, black raspberries and ellagic acid are being used in research to fight estrogen- positive breast cancer. 


More research is needed, but we are headed in the right direction by including lots of servings of berries (and other fruits and vegetables) in our daily meals and snacks. I like to refer people to the Fruit and Vegetable Calculator on the Center for Disease Control website (Reference #4 below) to learn about how much produce they need based on age, gender and activity. 



Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

For a special occasion, try this tart made with three types of berries – strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.   


1.  ORAC database withdraw:   http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=15866.


2.  Thomson, C.A., Ravia, J. A Systemic Review of Behavioral Interventions to Promote Intake of Fruits and Vegetables. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011: 111:1523-1535. 


3. Berries: Sweetening Cancer Prevention.  American Institute for Cancer Research AICR ScienceNow Newsletter 42 Summer, 2012. 

 4.  http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/index.html


Strawberry, Blackberry and Raspberry Tart


Homemade or prepared dough for single-crust pie

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons cold water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

3 cups strawberries, stemmed, washed, dried and chopped

2 cups fresh raspberries

2 cups fresh blackberries or blueberries

Preheat oven to 375°.  Roll dough to fit in an 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Line with foil and fill with pie weights or dry beans.  Bake 20 minutes; remove from oven and carefully remove foil and weights.  Return crust to oven and continue baking 5 minutes or until bottom and sides are golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool.  In large saucepan whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt until blended.  Whisk in water, lemon juice and zest.  Add strawberries.  Place over medium heat and stir until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Remove from heat.  Carefully stir in raspberries and blackberries.  Spread in baked crust.  Chill for 1 hour or up to overnight.  (Cover if chilled longer than an hour.)  Makes 10 servings.  


Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


  1. Your mode of explaining all in this article is really fastidious, all can effortlessly understand it, Thanks a lot.


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