Fruit and vegetable consumption is inversely related to the incidence of heart disease and several cancers. However, many people in countries in Northern latitudes do not eat the recommended “5-a-day” of fruit and vegetables. For such populations, a potentially important source of fruit may be locally grown soft fruits (eg. raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants). Such berries contain micronutrients such as vitamin C and folic acid which are essential for health. However, berries may have additional health benefits as they are also rich in phytochemicals such as anthocyanins which are glycosidic-linked flavonoids responsible for their red, violet, purple and blue colours. In vitro studies indicate that anthocyanins and other polyphenols in berries have a range of potential anti-cancer and heart disease properties including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cell regulatory effects. Such experimental data has lead to numerous health claims on the internet implying that “berries are edible superstars that may protect against heart disease, cancers and ageing”. However, the bioavailabilty of polyphenols such as anthocyanins would appear to be limited, thus compromising their nutritional relevance. Consequently the aim of the article is to assess the current scientific evidence for claims that berries may have additional health benefits to those normally associated with consuming fruit and vegetables.
Keywords: berries, soft fruit, micronutrients, anthocyanins, cancer, heart disease