Expert Q&A

Berries: Do They Prevent Cancer?

I’ve heard that berries can help fight cancer. Is this true?

-Jennifer from North Dakota

Early research has shown that eating berries can potentially reduce the risk of developing cancer as well as slow down the progression of already formed tumors. At the forefront of this connection, researchers at Ohio State University and Kentucky State University have studied the effects of eating black raspberries to reduce the development of oral and esophageal cancers. 2 phytochemicals, ellagic acid and anthocyanin, are present in raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries.

Raspberries have the highest amount of ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is responsible for slowing the division of cancer cells and may prevent the destruction of the p53 gene associated with the development of cancerous cells. Ellagic acid, along with anthocyanin, work together as scavengers to bind and make inactive cancer causing chemicals in the body. These 2 phytochemicals prevent carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) from binding to DNA. They also exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can slow the growth of tumor cells.

The American Cancer Society and the Food and Drug Administration recommend that adults eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. 1 cup of berries counts as 1 serving. Choosing berries such as cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries as part of a regular dietary intake may help reduce your risk of cancer as well as heart disease. Keep in mind that berries with darker coloring will contain higher levels of phytochemicals.

Frozen berries are just as healthy as fresh ones

If you live in an area where berries are seasonal, check your local grocery store's freezer section for frozen berries. Frozen berries, not the ones frozen in heavy syrup, are easy to use and just as healthy as fresh ones. Adding either fresh or frozen berries to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, frozen yogurt, or muffins is a great way to get phytochemicals into your diet. Although more research is needed, eating berries is not harmful and may truly reduce risks of cancer.

For further information on the healthy benefits of eating berries in your diet see the following article from TheDietChannel: Why You Should Be Eating Berries.

Dena McDowell, MS, RD
Contributing Expert

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