Get your power berries here

You hear it all the time: Antioxidants are good for you. But do you know why? Antioxidants fight free radicals to protect your cells. They can bind with toxins to help eliminate them from the body. They can help reduce inflammation too. Some of the most powerful food sources of antioxidants? Bring on the berries!

When metal oxidizes, it rusts. Oxidation inside your body may not look quite the same, but it does make you age faster and damages your DNA.

Free radicals — caused by poor diet, inflammation, environmental pollution, and even as a response to exercise — are the molecules that cause this oxidation damage. They are incomplete cells that pilfer electrons from other cells in your body; those pilfered cells become free radicals themselves, setting up a self-perpetuating cycle. Antioxidants break that cycle because they can give up electrons to eliminate the free radicals, but don’t turn into free radicals as a result.

The other things antioxidants can do for you are pretty amazing, too. Each one is unique, and their protective effects range from reducing inflammation to protecting your heart and your eyes, binding with toxins so your body can eliminate them, and fight cancer.

The best sources of antioxidants are nuts, herbs, spices and brightly colored fruits and vegetables. When it comes to antioxidant fruits, two of the very best are also the smallest: Blueberries and cranberries. Their great antioxidant powers are due in large part to the phytonutrients that give them their rich colors. And that’s just the start of what these tiny superfruits can do for you.

Check out cranberries

Cranberries are a proven home remedy for urinary tract infections; scientists think it’s because they keep bacteria from sticking to the lining of your bladder and urinary tract. They also help prevent and slow breast, colon, prostate and lung tumors, and they’re a rich source of immune-boosting, inflammation-busting vitamin C and the alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E.

There is one heads up regarding cranberries, though: Some researchers think their oxalic acid content contributes to the formation of kidney stones, and others say cranberries can interfere with anticoagulant medications. There is some controversy over both issues but, if either applies to you, it’s smart to limit your cranberry intake and talk to your doctor just in case.

Bust out the blueberries

Blueberries contain some very well-known antioxidants, including quercetin, anthocyanins, and resveratrol, plus a whole herd of lesser-known antioxidants like pterostilbene. It’s this collection of diverse antioxidants that probably gives blueberries most of their amazing (and diverse) health effects.

Those benefits include reducing abdominal fat, protecting your eyes, improving cognitive and motor function, protecting against cancers of the breast and digestive system, soothing intestinal problems like ulcerative colitis, improving your cholesterol, normalizing blood sugar levels and protecting your heart. And even though they don’t have quite the reputation cranberries do, blueberries are good for urinary tract health too.

Hunting for berries

If you’re shopping for blueberries and cranberries in a store or market, look for firm, plump fruit with bright, vivid colors. The best blueberries will still have a whitish, powdery “bloom” on their skin.

If you want a challenge and the season is right, you can also forage for both types of berries — they’re very common throughout North America. Depending on where you live, wild blueberries are at their best from May through the end of summer, while wild cranberries are usually best from September through November.

Both berries are tastiest (and have the most antioxidants) when fresh, but they also freeze well.

Spread the berries out on a cookie sheet and freeze them this way. Once they’re frozen hard, you can pour the berries into any container without worrying about them clumping together.