All American Berries: Potent Foods for Lasting Health by Francis Brinker. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 2015. Paperback, 202 pages. ISBN: 978-1888483185. $16.95.
Francis Brinker, ND, a researcher and respected author of numerous previous books on botanical medicines, set out with two objectives for this book: (1) to provide scientific research on berries and their significance to modern health; and (2) to alert health care professionals about the importance of powerful foods, such as berries, in lowering the risk of chronic diseases.
For the first point, Dr. Brinker accomplished his goal. He provided an excellent and scholarly review of several indigenous American berry genera: Vaccinium (Ericaceae; e.g., blueberries, cranberries), Rubus (Rosaceae), and Aronia (Rosaceae; e.g., blackberries, raspberries, and chokeberries). What I particularly liked is that he thoughtfully reviews the literature and groups the findings according to in vitro, animal, and human studies. In addition, he presents a short literature review on the merits of consuming all fruits, not just berries, and vegetables for those at risk of chronic disease. This honest approach of presenting data is refreshing. I especially was pleased to see his coverage of blueberries from the Nurses’ Health Studies I & II. I had just heard one of the study’s authors present these same findings.
The review of studies that support eating berries is extensive. The meat of the book includes broad-ranging information about the polyphenol content, antioxidant capacity, bioavailability, effects of processing, animal data, and human health benefits (e.g., to treat or reduce the risk of disease) of berries in the heath and rose families. I wish that Dr. Brinker had inserted some tables and graphs to break up the dense text. He did include short sentences summarizing key findings, but I didn’t find that enough. Dr. Brinker originally had planned to use the contents of this book as an appendix for another book, but decided against it based on the quantity of information available. He made the right choice and certainly satisfied his first objective of reviewing the literature on berries and health.
With respect to his second objective of alerting health care professionals about the importance of including berries in the diet, I would say that Dr. Brinker fell short. Most providers know that berries are healthy fruits and a good dessert or snack alternative to less desirable sugary or salty foods. I think they would find it too cumbersome to get through the information as presented. For subsequent editions, Dr. Brinker may want to consider including a summary table at the end of the book that shows the amount of berries (fresh or frozen) or equivalents (e.g., powders and extracts) one needs to consume to achieve a specific outcome. All of that information is in the book, but it is not summarized in a convenient way for busy health care providers.
I was quite taken with Dr. Brinker’s breadth of knowledge. He knows the field of berries and botanicals well and can elegantly communicate difficult concepts like oxidative stress and the chemical compositions of plants. He has authored or co-authored numerous other books on the subject, and it is clear why. However, sometimes I wasn’t sure what to do with the information. He spoke of “high bush” and “low bush” blueberries. When I go to the store I don’t know what I am buying, and the two berries seem to have different effects.
I also found it a bit confusing as to which forms of the berries were best: fresh, frozen, powder, extracts, or juice. Based on his review of the literature at the beginning of the book, clinical efficacy was determined from studies using varying amounts and different preparations of berries. In particular, the studies in which a powdered version of the berries was used did not always state its composition or commercial availability. I live in New England, and berries are costly and not always available. If they are, they are not always appealing enough to buy. The powdered versions sound like good options. Dr. Brinker did devote a chapter about the different preparations of berries, but it still left me in the dark.
Good for Dr. Brinker for pointing out the side effects of getting too much sugar when taking berries in juice form. However, he failed to mention the dried cranberry craze. These are whole cranberries with their insides removed, and the remaining skins are pumped with sugar. Clearly, these can provide as much unneeded sugar as juices, and should be avoided. But this was a minor omission, and my overall opinion of the book was excellent. It was a treat to read and learn about the positive health effects of berries.
—Stacey J. Bell, DSc, RDN