Lighten Up fitness blog: Berry good news

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Just when we thought we had memorized the list of superfoods that every magazine article tells us are mandatory for good health, one more has appeared on the horizon.  Now, I am not one to immediately jump on just any bandwagon without conducting my own research; this one, however, did pique my interest.

Meet the wild North American aronia berry.  This tiny fruit, also known as the chokeberry due to its acutely tart taste, has recently been cultivated by farmers in the Midwest. Aronia berries contain a natural blend of polyphenolic antioxidants, those magic bullets which seem able to combat the cell-damaging free radicals created in our bodies by stress, environmental pollution and other aspects of daily living.  Among these are anthocyanins, which have been shown to help fight diseases caused by oxidative stress, such as certain types of cancer. According to studies published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, anthocyanins also help ward off cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation and poor liver function.  In addition, the USDA has determined that aronia berries possess twice as much antioxidant power as cranberries and a powerful punch of four times as much as we find in pomegranates, strawberries, goji berries and blueberries. 

If you hesitate to experiment with new foods, perhaps this will encourage you to step out of your comfortable “fruit safety zone”: scientists have found a number of more specific agents, including caffeic acid, cyanidin-3-galactoside, delphinidin, epicatechin and malvidin, contained within the structure of the aronia berry.  If you have never heard of these compounds, fear not; leave that to the scientists. The take-home message here is that, when combined, these unique agents in aronia are anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-diabetic. They fight the formation of arterial plaque, facilitate the lowering of serum cholesterol, and protect the liver against a host of toxins. Aronia’s compounds also have been shown to help to lower blood sugar and improve the body’s own natural production of insulin.

Now comes the fun part…how best to enjoy the aronia berry and incorporate it into your weekly menu! The superfruit can be added to smoothies to generate an eye-opening zip first thing in the morning. They can be tossed into muffins or cookies, to add some nutritional power to your delicious treats. They can also be combined, in equal parts, with other berries; add to honey or maple syrup and you will definitely enliven your pancakes or crepes.

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This is the season to sample new produce; and in the interest of seeking better health, the aronia berry might just make it to the top of your next grocery list.  To quote Thomas A. Edison, “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”  This sounds like berry good advice to me.