Nothing tastes more like summer than a bowl of fresh berries - undeniably among the season's most delicious and nutritious foods. While it is well known that fruit and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, some fruits, particularly berries, are more essential than others. Full of vitamins and fibre, berries are now understood to contain staggering amounts of antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, polyphenols, ellagic acid, anthocyanins, coumaric, ferulic acid, phytonutrients and other compounds that are good for you. The wellness properties of berries can have a significant impact on general health as well as on specific diseases. Vitamin C, the main vitamin in berries, improves the function of the immune system, warding off colds and other summer bugs. The fibre in the fruit helps lower cholesterol, and makes you feel full so you eat less, which in turn helps you slim down for summer. Antioxidants and phytonutrients destroy free radicals - compounds increasingly produced by our bodies as we age - that cause heart disease, cancer and speed up the ageing process. In addition, the sweetness of berries is a low-calorie way to get a sugar fix. According to nutrition experts, people should aim to consume one serving of berries a day, or at least eat them two to three times a week. Berries are extremely versatile and can be enjoyed in many forms. They taste great raw, dried, whipped with yoghurt into a smoothie, cooked in jams and jellies, at the bottom of a summer cocktail, or added to pancakes and baked foods. Berry fruit juices are best kept to a minimum due to their high sugar content. Berries do not have a protective skin so, unless they are organically grown, could contain high levels of pesticides. Wash the fruit carefully before you eat it. Sweetly fragrant berries are ready to eat when they are ripe. Look for the ones that are plump and shiny. Berries taste best and maintain their highest nutritional value when eaten fresh off the vine, but they can be stored in the fridge for a few days. Do not wash them until they are going to be served. Frozen berries maintain most of their nutrients and can last for up to 10 months, so they can be enjoyed 'fresh' from the freezer out of season. Blueberries Research has shown that this richly hued berry, grown primarily in North America, increases brain functioning and improves motor skills in ageing brains. Blueberries also protect against urinary tract infections and reduce the build-up of bad cholesterol, which contributes to strokes and heart disease. Of particular note to women, studies conducted in the United States indicate that blueberries contain chemicals that decrease the proliferation of some types of cancer cells, including breast and cervical cancer. Cranberries Native to North America but readily available in Hong Kong, cranberries contain potent amounts of antioxidants. Like blueberries, they are a well-known remedy for urinary tract infections and cystitis. Animal studies have shown that this tart, red berry also offers protection against cancer, strokes and heart disease, and prevents bacteria from adhering to the digestive system, which prevents ulcers and viral infection in the intestines. Recent research suggests that regular consumption of cranberries may prevent the build-up of cavity-causing plaque. Unlike other berries, cranberries are not naturally sweet, so they taste best when they are dried, thrown into a blended vegetable juice or cooked in a savoury dish. Strawberries Perhaps the most popular of all berries, strawberries have been growing wild in regions around the world for thousands of years. Actively cultivated since the 1600s, this sweet berry, containing more than 100 per cent of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C in a single serving, also contains vitamin K and is high in essential minerals, including manganese, folic acid and potassium. Studies have shown that strawberries contain chemicals that can reduce the growth of certain cancer cells, including in the liver, cervix and breast. The anti-inflammatory properties of strawberries have been demonstrated to protect against the development of rheumatoid arthritis in the elderly. Recent studies indicate that eating strawberries can protect against age-related loss of vision. Raspberries Wild raspberries are thought to have originated in Asia. Ancient Chinese medical texts mention the sweet and fleshy fruit as a remedy for liver and kidney problems, for strengthening the physique, and for boosting immunity and concentration. This most delicate of the berry family is commonly red, but can also be found in golden, amber or purple varieties. Raspberries contain vitamins A, C and E, and folic acid. Studies show that they can protect against oesophageal and other kinds of cancer, and help prevent loss of vision. Raspberries also contain the soluble fibre pectin, which helps maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. Blackberries have similar properties to those listed above.