Promising new research links the consumption of blackberries, raspberries and strawberries with the prevention of cancer.
As with many berry health benefits, it’s the mighty phytonutrient content of berries that’s responsible for this effect. In this case, a phytonutrient called ellagic acid gets the credit. This compound is located in berry seeds, and various studies have demonstrated that people who consume foods high in ellagic acid are three times less likely to develop cancer when compared with those who consume very little or no ellagic acid.
Other antioxidants in berries including vitamins C and E may also offer protection against cancer and chronic disease. Best of all, cooking doesn’t seem to destroy ellagic acid, so a blackberry salsa or raspberry cobbler will still retain its health properties.
How can antioxidants protect against cancer?
According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Several laboratory studies show antioxidants may slow or prevent the development of cancer. The best sources of antioxidants come from a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to fruits, it’s hard to beat the nutrient profile of berries. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there are many cancer fighting nutrients that can be found in all types of berries including:
- Vitamin C
- Ellagic Acid
- Vitamin A
Why are berries so important to cancer prevention?
Blueberries are among the most powerful sources of antioxidants. The cancer fighting phytochemicals found specifically in blueberries include anthocyanosides (one of the most potent antioxidants) and resveratrol (also found in the skin of red grapes).
Strawberries are also good sources of antioxidants and folic acid, and are excellent sources of vitamin C, which has shown to decrease risk for esophageal cancer. One cup of strawberries provides 100% of your daily recommendation of Vitamin C.
Raspberries’ dark red color comes from flavonoids. These compounds work with fiber to promote health and disease prevention. Ellagic acid, found in raspberries (and in other berries) is being studied for anti-estrogen properties, especially beneficial for fighting certain breast cancers.
Blackberries, like blueberries, are a great source of anthocyanosides. The other phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals found in blackberries help to strengthen the immune system in order to deactivate free radicals and reduce cancer risk.
For more on the nutrient profile of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, click here!
While all these components have promise in reducing risk of cancer and promoting a healthy body and immune system, we don't know for sure that it's not something else in the berries, or a combination of things, that are doing the most good. There’s a unique combination of health promoting chemicals in all berries that a pill can never replace.
The bottom line is that in order to get the beneficial nutrients found in berries, don't expect pills, powders or supplements to do the trick. You've got to eat the real thing!