By Barbara Worley
UGA Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
Summer means bountiful baskets of vibrant hues of blue and red berries in the fields and gardens of Georgia. Blueberries and strawberries are synonymous with backyard barbeques, vacations and pick-your-own adventures, but more importantly, they are exceptionally healthy due to their high level of cancer fighting antioxidants.
What are antioxidants? Antioxidants are substances that counteract the negative effects free radicals can have in the body. They come in many different forms, including vitamins and phytochemicals. They are mostly found in fruits, vegetables and whole grain products.
What are free radicals? Our bodies are constantly fighting off the harmful effects of our environment, including smoking, sunlight and even chemicals produced in the body. Free radicals are the molecules created by these things that can cause damage in the body.
Why do we need antioxidants? Including foods with high levels of antioxidants in your diet can decrease your risk of developing certain types of cancers and heart disease.
Where can I find antioxidants in my diet? Phytochemicals and a number of vitamins, such as vitamin C, act as antioxidants in the body. Including foods with high levels of antioxidants in your diet is an excellent way to decrease free radical damage.
So what are phytochemicals, and do they taste good? Great question. Phytochemicals are substances found in plant foods. There are hundreds of different phytochemicals. Many phytochemicals are the pigments that give the flowers and foods their unique colors. Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different phytochemicals. By eating different colored fruits and vegetables, you will be including a wide variety of healthy phytochemicals in your diet. They contribute no calories to the diet, but many act as antioxidants in the body. Their antioxidant properties have brought them into the media spotlight.
What phytochemical makes strawberries red and blueberries blue that make them so good for you? Anthocyanins are found in purple, deep blue and reddish purple foods, such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries, red grapes, cranberries, bilberries, and strawberries. Some vitamins are also antioxidants. Vitamins C and E, and Beta Carotene (a form of vitamin A) all act as antioxidants in the body. Ounce for ounce strawberries have more vitamin C than most citrus fruits. Blueberries are also a great source of vitamin C and fiber.
Blueberries were originally called “star berries.” The bottom of the berry forms a perfect five-pointed star. Harvest season in Georgia for blueberries is mid-April through July (March-July for strawberries) with July being national blueberry month. Blueberries are one of the few fruits native to North America, and Georgia ranks second in the nation in blueberry production.
Whether in a parfait, smoothie or straight from the farm, enjoy knowing you are eating fresh, local and in season for your health this summer when you enjoy those red and blue good-for-you berries.
For more information on nutrition, health, and food safety, visit Forsyth County Extension at ugaextension.org/county-offices/forsyth.html.
Forsyth County Extension is supported by The University of Georgia, Forsyth County Government, Forsyth County Board of Education, and United Way of Forsyth County.