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Why would anyone want to eat something called a chokeberry? Well, they’re considered one of the best sources of antioxidants, which have a plethora of health benefits, that’s why. Aronia berries get their nickname because eating the small, darkly colored fruits raw can dry out your mouth, but they are often added to jams, teas, purees, juices and even wine.
Native to North America, the berries grow on shrubs and were traditionally used by Native Americans as a cold remedy. And you don’t have to puree them. If you can handle the sharp taste, eating them raw or frozen is just as good for you! So what are these health benefits?
1. Reduce Risk of Cancer
Research is showing that aronia berries can protect the body against certain cancers — particularly breast cancer and colon cancer. These test tube and animal studies showed that the anthocyanins present in the berries might stop colon cancer cells from growing, reducing growth by up to 60 percent in one study.
2. Increase Heart Health
The anti-oxidant effects not only help with cancer, they also may make your heart healthier — specifically alleviating conditions that fall under the umbrella of metabolic syndrome, like high cholesterol and triglycerides.
Two studies on the heart health effects concentrated on taking chokeberry extract, but since supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, it may be hard to determine the appropriate amount for each individual. That said, no side effects have been shown in people using the extracts. Blood pressure can also be reduced according to a small study of 25 people taking 300 mg of the extracts.
3. Fights Diabetes
Aronia berries might also prevent diabetes by fighting insulin resistance in the body. Not only that, but the berries have been found to lower blood glucose levels and decrease obesity, in addition to boosting immune function and reducing inflammation related to the disease.
4. Antioxidant Rich
All these health benefits are tied to the antioxidants present in the berries, so let’s talk about those. When compared with other berries, in fact, chokeberries had superior antioxidant levels. Specifically, aronia berries are a great source of polyphenols which inhibit free radicals in the bloodstream.
And it’s not just immune function in general. A study of 30 people found that aronia berry extracts reduced oxidative stress brought on by taking anti-psychotic medication. The berries also have been shown to reduce harmful bacterial activity, as well as decreasing cancer cell growth and inflammation, like we mentioned before.
5. Supports Organ Health
These antioxidant benefits go a step further into direct organ health, as well. At least in rats, a study found that aronia juice relieved the symptoms and severity of liver damage. Shortly after that, another study found that the juice might also prevent liver damage from occurring in the first place. It’s not limited to the liver, either. A third rodent study showed the juice helped minimize severity of damaged stomach linings.
More human research is needed to prove these findings, but it’s a start.
6. Combats High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure results from artery contraction forcing blood to flow through our bodies under more intense pressure than it should. This can become a permanent fixture in the bloodflow as arteries can have trouble relaxing, hindering blood flow long term, which can result in coronary artery disease. A 2015 study and a 2013 study showed that aronia berries can protect against this by relaxing that tissue lining and dropping blood pressure.
7. Boosts Immune System
Back to those antioxidants, but, seriously, the antioxidant levels in these berries not only support your immune system, they can strengthen it. Extract from the berries has been shown to reduce harmful bacteria activity by decreasing its production of a protective biofilm.
Human studies showed strong reduction in urinary tract infections in nursing home patients, and the more juice they drank, the larger the reduction. The berries may also inhibit the body’s release of inflammatory substances, decreasing likelihood of inflammation-induced illnesses. And, while not yet studied in humans, a study in mice found the berry extract might even protect against the flu.
8. High in Nutrients
On top of all these direct health benefits, the berries are full of nutrients like vitamin C, manganese, vitamin K and fiber. They also have folate, vitamin A, vitamin E and iron, in addition to the polyphenols we talked about before.
The best place to find chokeberries are in health food stores or online. Once you have them, you can make your own jams, purees and syrups with the raw berries or powder. If you don’t like the mouth-drying effects of the berries themselves, consider mixing them into smoothies or juices with other fruits, adding them to cakes, muffins or pies, or mixing them with sugar for other desserts. While the extracts and powders aren’t regulated by the FDA a typical serving size is one teaspoon of the powder to a serving of yogurt, juice or smoothie.
Darlena Cunha is a freelance writer and a professor at the University of Florida, with degrees in communications and ecology.