Let’s Celebrate National Berry Month!

National Berry Month

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

July is National Berry Month, and what better way to celebrate than to enjoy a plethora of richly-colored berries this time of year. Not only are berries delicious, they’re also nutrition powerhouses – chock-full of powerful nutrients that can help you ward off diseases. Berries can easily be used in a number of dishes or can be simply enjoyed on their own as a sweet, low-calorie snack.

Berries pack quite the nutritional punch for their small size. Berries are loaded with potassium, which can help lower your blood pressure. Berries also deliver a huge dose of phytochemicals, which are components in plants that have antioxidant properties that may help you prevent inflammation. Chronic inflammation, even low-grade inflammation, can contribute to a host of diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer.

Berries are also an excellent source of fiber, known to provide a plethora of health benefits. The fiber in berries can help lower your cholesterol. Reducing your blood cholesterol is important for heart and brain health. High blood cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, or narrowing of your arteries. High cholesterol can also increase your risk for strokes, heart disease, heart attacks and other cardiovascular conditions. The fabulous fiber found in berries can help your body fend off cholesterol. A cup of berries can contain between 2-8 grams of fiber.

In addition to being praised for what nutrients they do provide, berries should also receive high marks for what they’re low in—calories! A cup of sliced strawberries contains a mere 53 calories but boasts 3.3 grams of fiber. A cup of blueberries provides only 84 calories while also delivering a mighty 3.6 grams of fiber. One cup of blackberries racks up just 62 calories but gives you an amazing 7.6 grams of fiber.
Raspberries contain even more with 8 grams of fiber in a cup and only 64 calories.
Berries are also naturally sweet, making them a great alternative to high-calorie treats. Berries can easily be added to your diet. Here are some quick, easy, tasty ways to provide your body with a bounty of berries:

Top your morning cereal or oatmeal with a variety of berries – you can use either fresh or frozen berries to add natural sweetness to a low-sugar cereal or plain oatmeal.

Add berries into your favorite baked goods, including pancakes, waffles, muffins, breads and desserts.

Jazz up your spinach salad by tossing in a few blueberries or sliced strawberries, which add a natural sweetness that pairs well with the acidity of a good vinaigrette dressing.

Lighten up your ice-cream sundae by topping a one-half cup serving of ice-cream (the appropriate portion) with a huge handful of berries and some light whipped cream.

Make fruit & yogurt parfaits with a low-sugar yogurt, fresh or thawed frozen berries and your favorite granola or crunchy cereal.

Blend frozen berries into your smoothies to add both fiber and flavor.

Throughout July, celebrate the tomato with Operation Food Search, FEAST Magazine and more than 40 top local restaurants that are partnering for a delicious restaurant campaign, Tomato Explosion! Participating restaurants have each created a special tomato-themed dish to feature on their menu, and each time the dish is sold this month, Operation Food Search will receive a share of the proceeds to help feed the area hungry.

For a list of restaurants and their Tomato Explosion dishes, visit www.operationfoodsearch.org/tomato-explosion.php or http://www.feastSTL.com/feast-events/. Restaurant customers may post photos of their Tomato Explosion dish on Feast’s website at feastSTL.com/promotions for a chance to win the latest smartphone from T-Mobile, including a three-month service contract!