Farmer’s markets and fruit stands are bursting with berries—or they will be soon. Numerous studies link these summer treasures with a slew of health benefits, including weight loss. Here are five ways berries can help you slim down and a few healthy ways to gobble them up:
Berries are potent sources of antioxidants that essentially act like little bodyguards protecting cells from damage, which can lead to premature aging and disease. But antioxidants are also linked to weight control. Some exciting new research from the University of Florida found that people who consume more antioxidants weigh less, even when they don’t eat fewer calories. The researchers developed an index that ranks the number of calories consumed from plant-based foods compared with overall daily calorie intake called the phytochemical index, or PI score. A totally plant-based, vegan diet (excluding hard liquor and refined sugars) could have a perfect score of 100, whereas a typical American diet, heavy with meat, sugar, and fried foods and low in fruits and veggies, would score below 20. In a study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, the Florida scientists found that people of normal weight had PI scores 10.3 points higher, on average, than overweight or obese people. And even though both groups consumed about the same number of daily calories, those with lower PI scores weighed more, had larger waistlines, and higher body fat percentages.
Blood sugar regulation
Strawberries in particular have been shown to reduce blood sugar and insulin levels after meals. Scientists believe that a key antioxidant in strawberries blocks the activity of an enzyme responsible for breaking starch into simple sugar, which means fewer simple sugars are released into the blood stream, lowering the blood sugar and the corresponding insulin response. This is key for weight control because insulin shuttles excess sugar into fat cells. Check out my strawberry avocado taco snack recipe for a new way to enjoy the healthy fruit.
Raspberries have been shown to contain a natural substance called ketones, which are similar to capsaicin, the compound that gives hot peppers their fire. Animal studies have found that raspberry ketones prevented an increase in overall body fat and visceral fat, the deep internal belly fat considered to be most dangerous due to its relationship to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. I love raspberries as is but they’re also great in parfaits, hot or cold cereal, or as a topping for whole grain French toast.
Belly fat fighters
In one animal study rats that consumed two percent of their diet as blueberries had dramatic results after 90 days—significantly less belly fat, lower blood fats, lower cholesterol, and improved blood sugar and insulin levels. I’m addicted to Pinterest and I love this photo of one of my favorite blueberry recipes.
Berries are a terrific source of fiber, another key factor in weight control. Research has found that for every gram of fiber we eat, we eliminate seven calories, so consuming the recommended 25 to 35 grams daily could cancel out nearly 300 calories, enough to result in a 30 pound weight loss in one year’s time. Another study in Brazilian dieters found that over a six month period, each additional gram of fiber resulted in an extra quarter pound of weight loss. Raspberries in particular have the best ratio of carbohydrate to fiber. Of their 15 grams of carbohydates per cup, eight are fiber. That’s over 30 percent of the recommended intake, and one of the reasons I included them in my 5 Day, 5 Food Fast Forward, a solid food ‘detox’ in my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim. In the fast forward plan I combine raspberries with four other superfoods to create meals like a spinach raspberry salad and raspberry almond smoothie. The goal is to get quick results, up to eight pounds in five days, while eating satisfying, cleansing meals that reboot your metabolism and crush cravings.
In addition to weight loss, berries have been shown to boost bone density, maintain healthy vision, protect against the sun’s UV rays, slash the risk of cancer and Parkinson’s disease, fight infections, and keep your brain young. Pretty powerful stuff!
If you have a bounty of berries and don’t think you’ll eat them all before going bad here’s an easy 3-step way to freeze the nutritional powerhouses so they won’t clump together in one big block:
- Wash the berries and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet so they aren’t touching.
- Freeze for 30 minutes; remove then transfer to freezer bags.
- Remove as much of the air as possible (some people suck it out with a straw), seal, label, and toss in the freezer.
This way you can use as few or as many as you’d like in a smoothie or thaw and enjoy well beyond summer.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.