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Berries for the Brain

Blueberries are good for the brainEating blueberries and strawberries regularly seems to help protect the brain from the effects of aging. This latest good news about the health benefits of berries comes from researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Investigators gathered information on food consumption among participants in the long-running U.S. Nurses’ Health Study and looked at data recorded between 1995 and 2001 on cognitive function - the ability to think, remember and reason - of just over 16,000 of the women participants, all over 70. They checked the volunteers twice at an interval of two years. The upshot? A link between eating more than one half-cup serving of blueberries per week or two half-cups of strawberries a week and a 2.5 year delay in cognitive aging. Berries contain anthocyanidin, an antioxidant that can cross the blood-brain barrier and have beneficial activity in brain areas responsible for memory and learning. Earlier studies have found that berries and other fruits containing antioxidants called flavonoids (anthocyanidin is a particular type of flavonoid) can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancers. Another group of Harvard researchers recently found that berries also appear to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease in men.

My take? Here’s further evidence that blueberries are good for us. Last year, blueberries came out on top in a comparison of the antioxidant capacity of 40 different types of fruits and vegetables at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tufts University. While it is unrealistic to expect blueberries - or anything else - to reverse aging, they are a healthy low glycemic-index carbohydrate and a good source of vitamin C and fiber (two grams per one-half cup serving). They also provide ellagic acid, a compound which inhibits tumor growth in laboratory mice. And, like cranberries, blueberries contain a substance that can help prevent urinary tract infections by interfering with the attachment of bacteria to the bladder wall.

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