Did you know July is considered National Berry Month? Whether you are shopping at the market or gathering in the wild, the month of July offers a wealth of healthy food choices.

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat. They are delicious as well as nutritious. A low-calorie food, berries contain good amounts of vitamin C, manganese, vitamin K1, copper and folate. These nutritional dense foods offer a number of health benefits. Berries are loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants keep free radicals under control. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are beneficial in small amounts but can damage your cells when their numbers get too high, causing oxidative stress. Anthocyanins, ellagic acid and resveratrol are compounds within berries that may reduce disease risks.

Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries have the highest antioxidant activity of commonly consumed fruits, next to pomegranates. Several studies confirm antioxidants may help reduce oxidative stress. Have trouble with blood sugar? Berries may improve your blood sugar and insulin levels. This is in part because of the high fiber content. Additionally, the fiber may aid in weight management. Fiber helps reduce the number of calories you absorb from mixed meals. Also, fiber make you feel fuller and stay satisfied longer after eating.

The benefits just keep coming! Berries have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Excessive long-term inflammation is linked to diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. Berries offer help in lowering cholesterol and keeping arteries healthy. Also, they provide an added boost to healthier skin. Studies link berry consumption to reduced risk factors for developing cancer of the esophagus, mouth, breast and colon.

Berries can be enjoyed in all types of dietary choices — an exception is those needing a low fiber diet. People choosing low-carb or keto diets can still have berry benefits in moderation. For those choosing paleo, Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets, greater amounts of berries may be included. With the wide range of fresh and frozen berries now available, they have become a year-round health additive.

Berries are delicious, making them a healthy snack food. Be adventurous: Try mixing multiple varieties of berries for new flavors. They make a great topping for yogurt or cottage cheese. Try adding a handful to your favorite salad mix. Don’t overlook the benefits of adding berries to meat for a unique new flavor. Berries are tasty, nutritious and a healthy addition to any diet!

Dr. Dianna Richardson has been serving Jefferson City and the surrounding communities for more than 22 years. She has worked in the field of health and nutrition as a wellness practitioner for more than 30 years. Richardson holds a doctorate in naturopathy, along with degrees in nutrition and a master’s degree in public health education. She may be found at the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center, LLC on Dix Road in Jefferson City.

THE RECIPE

BLUEBERRY CHICKEN

Makes: 4 servings

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons orange marmalade

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 skinless chicken breast halves

2 cups blueberries (thaw id frozen)

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup white vinegar

Stir mustard and marmalade together in a bowl.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat; cook chicken until slightly browned but still pink inside, about 5 minutes per side. Spread mustard-marmalade mixture over chicken; add blueberries to the skillet. Cook, stirring often, until chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 10 more minutes.

Pour vinegar into blueberry mixture in skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir blueberry sauce over high heat until 1/3 reduced, 5 -10 minutes. Pour sauce over chicken to serve.

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