Q: Is Aronia berry supplement beneficial for health?
A: Aronia melanocarpa, also known as black chokeberry, is a lovely shrub bearing creamy white flower clusters in the spring and deep purple-black berries in the summer. These berries produce a nutritious juice, which also has been drawing attention as a supplement.
Aronia berries show promise in the scientific literature for health-promoting properties, including lowering blood pressure, “bad” LDL cholesterol, and inflammation levels; reducing the risk of heart attacks and cancer; and improvements in heart attack recovery, muscle soreness, and blood sugar regulation. These benefits may be related to aronia berries’ strong antioxidant properties. Sour and astringent in taste, aronia berries have a high concentration of anthocyanins, compounds that help dilate arteries and counter the buildup of plaque. Studies have shown benefits with eating 3 to 5 berries three times a day, drinking berry juice (about 5 ounces a day), or consuming berry extracts (about 85 – 100 mg three times a day.)
While the evidence is not strong enough to indicate that aronia berries should be your sole treatment to mount disease defense, consuming aronia berries or juice does appear safe. It’s important to note that many berries, including blueberries, cranberries and strawberries, have demonstrated protection against chronic diseases. So, consider aronia berries to be just one more nutrient-rich plant that you might consider including in your culinary medicine cabinet.
—Diana Cullum-Dugan, RD, LD
Q: Is evaporated cane juice better than ordinary sugar?
A: While you can’t buy evaporated cane juice in a bottle in the supermarket, it is widely used as an ingredient that many people perceive to be a healthier alternative to sugar. Yet, evaporated cane juice originates from the same place as white sugar: the sugar cane plant (although some white sugar is processed from beets). Here’s how both types of sugars are made. Sugar cane is shredded and pressed to make a juice that is boiled into a thickened syrup—essentially evaporated cane juice (which is not really a “juice”) after it’s washed and filtered. Water is evaporated from the syrup, forming wet sugar crystals that are spun in a centrifuge in order to separate the syrupy liquid (molasses). The remaining sugar is purified by another cycle of washing, crystalizing, and centrifuging to create brown sugar. White sugar is put through this process one more time to remove all traces of molasses and produce pure sucrose.
On one end of the spectrum you have evaporated cane juice, which is sucrose and molasses, and on the other end you have refined white sugar, which is pure sucrose. Both forms are added sugars, with the same calorie and carbohydrate profile, and should be consumed in limited quantities.
—McKenzie Hall, RD