Celeb Trainer Harley Pasternak: Meet the New Berries on the Block

10/07/2015 at 04:40 PM ET

Harley Pasternak
Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

If you read my blog often, you’ll know that I love berries. They’re loaded with fiber, antioxidants and vitamins, and oh-so delicious. So, much to my delight, I have come across two newcomers (well not so new, but we’ll get to that later). Once you learn about aronia berries and golden berries, both of which are increasingly available in stores and online, you’ll be champing at the bit to sample them.

What Are Aronia Berries?
Although you likely have never heard of them, these shiny black berries may grow right in your backyard. Aronia berries grow in the Northeast and many other parts of the United States (although not in the Sunbelt) as well as many parts of Europe.

You may know aronia berries as chokeberries. That unappealing name probably derives from the fact that they are too tart for most to nibble right off the tree. But when turned into juice, jelly or other product, they are delicious. Native Americans have traditionally used the berries and other parts of the plant in teas and mashed the dried berries into pemmican — the forerunner of jerky.

What’s So Great About Them?
Aronia berries are packed with antioxidants, including the good guys known asanthocyanins, flavonoids, hydroxycinnamic acids and proanthocyanidins. Among other functions, these antioxidants appear to mop up free radicals that could damage heart vessels. The berries also contain quinic acid, vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. Aronia berry extract has been found to regulate weight gain, blood sugar and inflammation. Another study showed that consuming the juice moderated blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Although cranberry juice is associated with preventing and relieving urinary tract infections, there is 10 times the amount of the active agent, quinic acid, in aronia berries. The polyphenols in aronia berry juice have also been shown to reduce the growth of colon cancer cells. Last but far from least, aronia berries are a good source of fiber.

How Do You Get Their Goodness?
Aronia berries are available in a dazzling array of food products available at Whole Foods and other grocery stores, as well as at Amazon and other online sources. You’ll find them frozen, freeze-dried or dried and as syrups, juices (and juice concentrates), extracts, powders, teas and even chokeberry wine. You may find jams, jellies and purées at farmers markets in certain parts of the country, too.

The trick is to get the goodness of aronia berries minus the added sugar used to offset the tartness in many of these offerings. (I’d pass on the aronia berry gummy bears.) Purchasing unsweetened dried or frozen berries is the best way to do this. Here are five ways to use them:

1. Combine with other naturally sweeter berries in a fruit salad.
2. Sub for blueberries in baked goods or pancakes.
3. Toss some in some yogurt or skyr — the dairy will cut the sourness.
4. Add a few dried berries to brown or wild rice pilaf in the last few minutes of cooking.
5. Toss a small handful into a curried chicken salad.

What Are Golden Berries?
Another nutritious newcomer — to North American shores, at least — is the golden berry, which is actually not a true berry. And like aronia berries, they have several aliases, including Incan berries — signifying that the Incans began to cultivate them thousands of years ago in the Andes Mountains. About 200 years ago, they were brought to South Africa, Great Britain and New Zealand, where they’re called Cape gooseberries.

The yellow fruit looks like a tiny cherry tomato, and for good reason: it’s actually a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes and tomatillos, and is covered with a papery jacket very similar to those on tomatillos.

In one respect, golden berries are very different from aronia berries: when dried, they look like humungous golden raisins and boast a chewy texture plus a sweet-tart flavor that makes them enjoyable to eat by themselves and to use in recipes without the need for added sweeteners.

What’s So Great About Them?
Golden berries are higher in protein and lower in sugar than most berries, making them a terrific snack food. (Your kids will love them, too!) They’re also full of beta-carotene, bioflavonoids and vitamin A, as well as two essential fatty acids, linoleic and oleic acid, both of which help your body oxidize fat and utilize insulin effectively.

Like aronia berries, golden berries are full of antioxidants and flavonoids, a specific kind of antioxidant key to heart health. They have also been shown to lower blood sugar levels by inhibiting the breakdown of starchy carbs, making them helpful for weight loss. Golden berries appear to calm the swelling and redness of the autoimmune response to an irritant. Preliminary research indicates that the berries may also be protective of liver health.

How Do You Get Their Goodness?
You might occasionally come across fresh golden berries in Whole Foods or ethnic markets, but you’ll find dried ones all year round in many grocery stores and online. Avoid the kind packed in syrup, which is full of sugar, offsetting one of the virtues of this berry. Its uses are almost limitless, but here are some suggestions:

1. Add to your morning oatmeal, preferably not the instant kind, which is usually low in fiber and often full of sugar.
2. Stir into plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt or skyr (I like Siggi’s brand). Add a couple of almonds for a protein- and fiber-rich breakfast.
3. Swap for raisins in trail mix.
4. Serve in a salad with cooked baby beets and soft goat cheese on a bed of baby arugula.

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