If you were asked to make a list of “superfoods”—nutrient-loaded foods that effectively fight disease—you’d probably include items such as kale, beans, walnuts, broccoli, green tea, wild-caught salmon…and berries.

What few people realize: As a superfood, berries—blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries and the like—are in a class by themselves. They can be more health-giving than medications or supplements, according to experts at Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The antioxidants in berries—anthocyanins, the compounds that give these fruits their lustrous colors—deliver a pure dose of prevention and healing to the brain, heart and every other system and cell in the body. And you don’t have to eat a bushelful to get the benefits.

Here’s what you need to know about the amazing power of berries…

BERRIES AND YOUR BRAIN

For more than a decade, scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University have been studying the effect of berries on the brain—in cells and in laboratory animals. They have found that regular ingestion of blueberries, strawberries and/or blackberries can help improve “plasticity,” the ability of brain cells to form new connections with one another…generate new brain cells…stop inflammation and oxidation from damaging brain cells…ease the destructive effect of stress on the brain…prevent and reverse age-related memory loss, particularly short-term, or “working,” memory…and protect against amyloid-beta, the plaques in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease. Now research has shown that blueberries can help rejuvenate the aging human brain…

Startling new findings: The ­researchers from Tufts studied 37 people, ages 60 to 75, dividing them into two groups—one group consumed one ounce of freeze-dried blueberries every day (the equivalent of one cup of fresh blueberries)…the other a blueberry placebo. At the beginning, middle and end of the three-month study, the participants took tests measuring learning and memory. By the end of the study, those in the blueberry group had a 20% improvement in their scores on a memory test compared with those in a placebo group.

Strawberries are good, too. The Tufts researchers gave participants either freeze-dried strawberry powder (the equivalent of two cups of fresh strawberries) or a placebo. After three months of daily intake, the strawberry group had much greater improvements in memory than the placebo group.

What to do: Eat one cup of blueberries or strawberries daily, either fresh or frozen. Choose organic. Every year, the Environmental Working Group ­announces its “Dirty Dozen,” a list of the produce with the most pesticides. In 2017, strawberries topped the list and blueberries ranked number 17.

BERRIES AND YOUR HEART

Hundreds of studies show that anthocyanins battle oxidation and inflammation, the evil twins of chronic disease—including heart disease. Berries can…

• Reduce high blood pressure—the number-one risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Researchers from Florida State University studied 48 postmenopausal women with high blood pressure, giving them either one-third cup of freeze-dried blueberry powder daily or a placebo. After two months, the women getting the blueberry powder had a drop in systolic blood pressure (the upper number in a blood pressure reading) of 5.1% and a drop in diastolic blood pressure (the lower reading) of 6.3%—decreasing the risk for heart ­attack and stroke. Their arteries were also more flexible. There were no changes in the placebo group.

• Reduce other risk factors for heart disease. The cranberry is no slouch when it comes to guarding the heart. Scientists from the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center studied 56 people, average age 50. Half drank two eight-ounce glasses of no-sugar-added cranberry juice daily…the other half made no changes to their diets. After two weeks, the scientists measured several risk factors for heart disease. Those drinking the juice had lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker for heart-damaging inflammation…lower levels of triglycerides, a heart-hurting blood fat…and lower levels of blood sugar.

Bottom line: More berries, fewer heart attacks. In a study published in Circulation, researchers examined 18 years of health data from 93,600 women and found that those who ate three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries per week (one serving is one-half cup) had a 34% lower risk for heart attack, compared with women who ate them less than three times weekly.

What to do: If you have heart disease or any risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, high blood sugar, high CRP, a family history of heart disease), eat three cups of blueberries or strawberries per week.

BERRIES AND CANCER

Cellular research and animal research have shown that berries can fight just about every kind of cancer. Example: A scientific paper recently published by researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Antioxidants shows that cranberries can help fight 17 different cancers, including bladder, blood, brain, breast, colon, esophageal, oral, prostate and stomach cancers.

But the real test of berries’ ­anticancer power is whether berries can help people with cancer. Research published in 2016 shows that they can…

• Oral cancer. Researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center gave lozenges of freeze-dried black raspberry powder (which contains very high levels of anthocyanins) to people with oral cancer for two weeks. Analyzing the tumors, they found that several genetic markers of cancer severity—prosurvival genes and proinflammatory genes—were significantly reduced by up to 21%.

In an earlier study, researchers at University of North Carolina and three other universities gave a “bioadhesive” black raspberry gel or a placebo to 40 people with premalignant oral lesions (neoplasia), which often progress to oral cancer. After four months, the lesions of those using black raspberry had shrunk in size and were less likely to advance to cancer.

• Colon cancer. In several studies on colon cancer at the National Cancer ­Institute and other institutions, daily intake of 60 grams of black raspberry powder (the equivalent of 15 servings of black raspberries) reversed dozens of biomarkers of the disease. These studies showed that the powder can kill cancer cells, block the growth of new blood vessels to tumors (angiogenesis), kill cancer cells (apoptosis) and stop cancer cells from dividing and growing (proliferation).

What to do: If you are at risk for oral or colon cancer…or are being treated for one of those diseases…or are a survivor of any of them—talk with your doctor about adding black raspberry powder to a daily smoothie. (You could never eat enough black raspberries to get the cancer-reversing effect.) Good product: Freeze-dried black raspberry powder from BerriHealth (BerriHealth.com).

For preventing cancer, eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day—including berries.