Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: August 9, 2003
Publication Date: February 25, 2004
Citation: Lewers, K.S. 2004. Health benefits of berries.. Meeting Proceedings. Technical Abstract: Population studies have linked fruit and vegetable consumption with lowering the risk for chronic diseases including specific cancers and heart disease. However, media and consumer interest in phytonutrients and functional foods is far ahead of established proof that documents the health benefits of these foods or food components for humans. Many of these studies involve looking at groups of people with a low incidence of disease and then determining what in their diet differs from groups with a high incidence of the same disease. Other studies involve feeding different diets to animals. Studies of this type are focused on general fruit and vegetable consumption and are preliminary to addressing some important issues in determining what exactly in these plant foods is healthful. Some of these issues include the effects of fiber, the effects of compounds in fruits and vegetables on beneficial gut microorganisms, replacement by fruits and vegetables of other foods that may be less healthful, and tendencies of fruit and vegetable eaters to exercise and refrain from smoking. Berries are good sources of many phytonutrients thought to be healthful, including vitamins, elagic acid, and phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds include the flavonoids like the anthocyanins present in many forms in berries. Because strawberries have a wide range of phytonutrients, because many studies paid no attention to cultivar used, and because cultivars vary widely in phytonutrient composition, it is not possible to say at this time, which phytonutrients are producing healthful benefits. There is need for studies like a recent one at Cornell that looked at several strawberry cultivars and determined that 'Earliglow' was very good at preventing growth of liver cancer cells. By testing cultivars, the researchers were better able to gain understanding, based on cultivar composition, which components may or may not be providing the associated benefit. In addition, there is a need to test individual components and combinations of components, because studies that have done so have shown that individual components rather than a class of components are responsible for protecting us from heart disease and cancer. Additional information can be found at the USDA-ARS BARC Phytonutrients Lab web site (http://www.barc.usda.gov/bhnrc/pl/pl_faq.html) and the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center Lab site (http://www.barc.usda.gov/bhnrc/).