Wild berries of the north are real superfood

The long summer days and cool temperature increase the aromaticity and pigments of wild berries. The unique aroma and the colours are produced by flavonoids and other polyphenols. The antioxidising efficiency of berries is greater than that of other plants.

Photo: Visit Finland/Asko Kuittinen

Over 40 edible berries grow in Finnish forests. Due to the arctic growing conditions, they contain exceptionally many bioactive compounds, i.e. vitamins and polyphenols.

Free oxygen radicals causing oxidation make holes in cell walls. Foodstuffs containing plenty of antioxidants prevent the involution of the organism.

The antioxidants are vitamins C and E, beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium, zinc, carnosine and ubiquinone. In addition to these, there are many polyphenolic compounds with similar characteristics protective of the organism. There are a lot of them particularly in wild berries, which grow in the north.

IN 2012, the NDL (Nutrient Data Laboratory) laboratory, researching the nutritional data of the United States, removed the popular ORAC database, dealing with the antioxidant contents of foodstuffs, from its web pages.

The reason was that the health effect of polyphenols could not be accounted for in the data collected into the database.

Polyphenols are metabolic products and protective agents of plants whose effect is similar to that of antioxidants. Polyphenols protect plants from diseases and the sun’s rays. Wild berries growing in Finland have many protective compounds which also benefit humans.

– Finnish berries and the products manufactured from them have great opportunities as health products. Northern wild berries have been proven to be healthy, and they have been observed to have numerous health effects. A real superfood is a berry smoothie made of wild berries, sweetened with honey, for example, says research director, Dr. Carina Tikkanen-Kaukanen of Ruralia Institute of the University of Helsinki.

According to Dr. Tikkanen-Kaukanen, the real benefits of the Finnish wild berry are, in addition to its northern location, clean soil and clean air. The organic berries intended for export are obtained from Finnish certified organic forests.

Tikkanen-Kaukanen has long studied the health effects of wild berries. She is particularly interested in the anti-infective properties of berries.

The health effects of American cranberry have been known for a long time. It was scientifically proven in the 1990s that the proanthocyanidins of American cranberry can prevent the adhesion of coliform bacterium to the walls of urinary tracts.

– Now there is interest in Asia and particularly in China in the berries of northern Europe, such as bilberry.

Photo: Visit Finland/Kiki Kolembet

Berries prevent infections

According to Tikkanen-Kaukanen, particularly the clean wild berries of northern forests have properties which prevent bacterial infections. Researchers regard the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics as a phenomenon as serious as climate change, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it concerns every person all over the world.

– An additional problem is that not all have access to effective antibiotics. Annually over a million children die from untreated pneumonia and blood poisoning caused by the pneumococcus bacterium.

The phenolic compounds contained by berries can prevent the adhesion of several different bacteria to the organs.

They repel effectively, for example, the pneumococcus bacterium which causes the most common respiratory infections as well as preventing infection by the meningococcus bacterium which causes meningitis. The polyphenols of bilberry, blackcurrant, crowberry and lingonberry (anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and flavonols) block the bacteria of the mouth and prevent the formation of caries and plaque in teeth.

– Now it is important to find new ways to fight infectious diseases. Ingesting berries as such or as products prepared from them, such as berry juice, is an effective way to prevent infections.

Tikkanen-Kaukanen’s research team tries to discover by means of clinical research whether the occurrence of nasal-pharyngeal infections can be reduced by means of berry juices.

The research team obtained the best results specifically with berry juices.

Photo: Visit Finland

Article by Visit Finland / Ari Turunen

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