Like my patients, you often hear me talk about the importance of including optimal levels of antioxidants into your diet. So far, we’ve talked about Vitamin A, C, Vitamin E, selenium, resveratrol, garlic, to name a few, and the incredible health benefits they confer like fighting heart disease, diabetes and cancer. We’ve talked about certain natural foods that contain high amounts of these powerful antioxidants like blueberries, dark blue-purple grapes, strawberries, yams, Brazil nuts, and almonds for starters.
Now, I’d like to tell you about another, new (to health research that is) superfood antioxidant that we haven’t talked about before. When I say the name of this berry to my patients they almost always wrinkle up their eyebrows and say “ a what-berry?” to which I repeat, a “chokeberry”. Even though it has a funny name, I’d like to tell you about the new fantastic health benefits researchers are now assigning to this ancient fruit.
Chokeberry: Old Fruit, New Health Star
The black chokeberry, or its scientific name, Aronia melanocarpa, has been around for ages. The Native Americans have long included it in their health remedies as a powerful medicine. However, it hasn’t been until fairly recently that health researchers have begun to study the incredible health benefits of this rich food source, and the particular types of antioxidants they contain called anthocyanins and flavonoids.
Chokeberry also grows as a red berry and has been found to contain the highest amount of anthocyanins of all North American berries. That is why I’m recommending my patients include this star berry in their diet.
I’ve always advised my patients to eat at least a serving a day of other berries, either strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, because of their high anthocyanin and flavonoid content. Anthocyanins and flavonoids have been found by scientific research to scavenge free radicals in the human body and offer protection against cancer and other diseases.
In fact, cancer researchers found that chokeberry inhibited cancer growth of the esophagus by 30-60% and the esophagus 80%! Here are some of the other benefits of chokeberry:
- Rich source of Vitamins A, C, E, fiber, and minerals like potassium, manganese and iron.
- Rich source of flavonoid anti-oxidants like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthins that greatly benefit eye health and vision, protecting against macular degeneration.
- Highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbency capacity) level of foods yet known at 16,062 micromoles per 100 grams (1/2 cup) of berry. According to what source you use, this is at least 4-8 times higher than the ORAC value of the powerful blueberry!
- May help control blood sugar, diabetes and high blood pressure.
How Can I Add Chokeberry Into My Diet?
Chokeberry is not a common item to carry in most grocery produce sections. Their berries are much less sweet than other berries and require a little sweetening with either apple juice or stevia. You can, however, usually find them at a health food grocery store and/or would likely find them at a local organic farm that produces berries.
Chokeberry can also be purchased as syrups for pancakes (although may contains a lot of sugar). They can be picked and eaten (washed first) right from the tree, if you like the tartness, or prepared for different foods like pies, muffins, jams, or atop cereal or salads.
Chokeberry supplement is also available in powder form that you mix into water or another juice, or capsules. In addition, you can grow your own chokeberry bush right in your backyard! They grow particularly well in North America in almost all climates and are said to grow fairly rapidly. Birds, and other animals, generally tend to leave them alone because of their sourness and generally will only eat them if there is no other food source around.
Any Drawbacks To Chokeberry?
As I caution my patients, if there is one possible drawback to chokeberry it would be that because it contains oxalic acid, it may contribute to forming oxalate-type kidney stones in people who are prone to forming them.
If you have a history of forming kidney stones, go easy on consuming chokeberry, perhaps only consuming ¼ cup a few times a week rather than ½ cup. Be sure to drink adequate water to flush out the oxalate crystals before they can form stones. Or, check with your doctor for his recommendation about whether to consume chokeberry at all.
In addition, oxalic acid can interfere with the absorption of calcium and magnesium, even though chokeberry contains these same minerals. My best advice would be to refrain from consuming chokeberries when you are taking calcium supplements or dairy foods to be sure to absorb your calcium correctly.
As I frequently tell my patients, Mother Nature has given us an array of superfoods that can help us stay healthy if we only learn about them and make use of them! Adding some chokeberry to your diet a few times a week can help you fight free radical damage that can lead to serious diseases. At least give them a try! You may have found a new high powered berry to add to your arsenal of health-giving foods.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Photo credit: Will Cook