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Ripe Berries for the Picking

Focused on Health - May 2012

by Laura Nathan-Garner

berries blueberriesWith summer on the way, those berries at the grocery store or farmers market may be calling your name. But, let’s face it: they’re not all equally tasty — or fresh.

And, eating less-than-fresh berries may mean you’re missing out on some cancer-fighting nutrients.

After all, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are excellent sources of vitamin C, which helps fight esophageal cancer. The fiber in berries also may help curb your risk for colorectal cancer. And, berries — especially strawberries and raspberries — contain antioxidants that may protect the body from cell damage that could lead to breast, skin, bladder, lung and esophageal cancers.

So, how can you reap the most cancer-fighting power from berries? Get started with these berry picking, cleaning and storage tips.

Choose brightly colored berries

Darker, brightly colored berries tend to be riper and sweeter. Even better: they have more cancer-fighting antioxidants than lighter-colored berries.

Buying blueberries, blackberries or raspberries? Pick dry, firm, plump ones

Be sure to check for stains on the bottom of the carton. Stains usually mean berries are past their prime.

Also, avoid berries that are shriveled or showing signs of mold. They’re no longer fresh.

Buying strawberries? Bigger isn’t better

berries strawberriesBig, plump strawberries look pretty, but they’re not the most nutritious option. These strawberries are bred to have hardier skins, so they can survive long-distance travel from the farm to the supermarket.  And, that may mean they’re not as fresh when they reach you.

Smaller, less perfectly shaped berries tend to have thinner skins since they’re usually bred by smaller farms and travel shorter distances. And, that usually makes for fresher, juicier berries.

Don’t wash berries until you’re ready to eat them

Want your berries to last longer? Don’t wash them until you’re ready to eat them. The reason? Washing berries softens them — and causes them to spoil and grow mold sooner.

Keep unwashed berries fresh longer by storing them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer or in a tightly sealed container. This helps protect them from refrigerator moisture and humidity. Properly stored berries can last up to seven to 10 days.

Storing berries in a container? Use glass if possible. This may help curb your berries’ exposure to Bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical that can sneak into your food from plastic containers. By keeping BPA out of your food, you may lower your chances of getting cancer.

Eat ripe berries promptly

Once ripe, berries usually last only a couple days. So, eat them quickly.

Or, rinse them, dry them and freeze them in an airtight container. You’ll still get plenty of nutrients and antioxidants.

Choose organic strawberries and blueberries when possible

When it comes to conventionally grown produce, strawberries and blueberries tend to absorb the most pesticides. Raspberries also rank pretty high on the list.

That’s bad news since eating these berries exposes you to toxic chemicals that may raise your cancer risks.

So, when possible, choose organic strawberries, blueberries and even raspberries.

Frozen berries offer plenty of cancer-fighting nutrients and antioxidants

Can’t find fresh berries? Good news: you can get plenty of nutrients and antioxidants from frozen berries. If you’re buying strawberries, blueberries or raspberries, look for organic frozen berries.

Of course, berries are just one of many cancer-fighting foods. Your best bet for eating your way toward cancer prevention is to enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.

Related Links:
Fight Cancer With Food (MD Anderson)
Foods That Fight Cancer: Berries (AICR)

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center