Superfood Series: Blueberries

August 21, 2015 By Lee Sandwith

 

Description & history

Blueberries are often touted for their powerful nutritional punch, with a strong emphasis on their antioxidantsBlueberries are often touted for their powerful nutritional punch, with a strong emphasis on their antioxidants (1).

They stem from the Cyanococcus section of the Vaccinium genus and are relatives of cranberries and bilberries (2). The blueberry plant ranges in size from mere inches to several feet, and the leaves vary from deciduous, evergreen, ovate, and lanceolate (3).

Before blueberries became widely popular, Native Americans are said to have enjoyed these delectable fruits for their sweet taste and multiple health benefits (4).

However, although one of the few fruits native to North America, these luscious berries weren’t widely eaten until about 1916 (5).

In fact, blueberries were thought to be resistant to domestic farming until, a century ago, farmers in New Jersey created a new hybrid blueberry, the highbush blueberry.

From the 1940s to 1960s, blueberries spread from New Jersey to several other states, and by the 1970s, the blueberry was a favoured summertime treat. In the U.S., they even have their national month: July, which is a great time to indulge in some blueberry-inspired recipes.

Today, blueberries are widely cultivated across the world including the U.S., Canada, South America, New Zealand, Australia and parts of Asia (6).

Nutritional Profile

Blueberries are the ideal low-calorie, sweet treat as they are super tasty and deliver a huge nutritional payload (7).

Here’s a breakdown of the nutritional benefits and top vitamins and minerals per serving of blueberries, (1 cup, 148 grams): (8)

  • Blueberries are the ideal low-calorie, sweet treat as they are super tasty and deliver a huge nutritional payloadCalories: 84 kcal
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 21 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Dietary fibre: 4 grams, 14% of the RDA
  • Vitamin K: 36% of the RDA
  • Manganese: 25% of the RDA
  • Vitamin C: 24% of the RDA

Health Benefits

The blueberry earns it’s status as a superfood due to high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, all well know known for their potential health benefits.

Blueberries are thought to boast the highest antioxidant capacity of all common fruits and vegetables, with the main antioxidant compounds being flavonoids and anthocyanins (9).

Cancer prevention

The deterioration of our bodies is a natural process and as we age, the chances of the development of degenerative illnesses, such as cancer, increase (10).

At a cellular level, an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants causes oxidative stress which leads to DNA damage; an important factor in the development of cancer (11, 12, 13).

Blueberries are rich in phytonutrients, such as the aforementioned anthocyanins, well known for their antioxidant activity and their potential to neutralise cancer causing free radicals (14, 15).

Amazingly, some studies have shown that just half a cup of blueberries per day is all you need to reap the cancer-fighting benefits (16).

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Eating blueberries can also help prevent and treat Urinary Tract Infection (UTI); infections caused by microbes, such as bacteria, overcoming the body’s defenses in the urinary tract (17).

The natural antioxidants in blueberries can ease inflammation, soreness and discomfort of a urinary tract infection by fighting that harmful bacteria build-up. In particular, studies have shown positive effects on the prevention and treatment of UTI in women (18).

However, if you’re looking for those sort of medicinal benefits, a normal serving of fresh blueberries may not be sufficient. If you’re looking for quick results with maximum benefits, you may be better opting for 100% blueberry juice to get a concentrated dose of those awesome antioxidants (19).

In terms of credible UTI studies, cranberries seem to be the more commonly researched with some studies suggesting that two doses of cranberry juice per day can provide protection over a 24 hour period (20).

Improved memory and brain function

As well as their antioxidants, blueberries also boast a bunch of vitamins and minerals needed for optimal brain function.

But it’s the flavonoids – such as anthocyanin – found within blueberries which are of most interest with lots of emerging studies suggesting that there may be a wide range of brain related benefits.

We’re not just talking about improved memory, but learning, general cognitive function, including reasoning skills, decision making, verbal comprehension and numerical ability, and even protection against disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (21, 22, 23).

Protection against Heart Disease

Numerous studies have also shown that blueberries may be beneficial in the help against heart disease, again, largely due to the abundance of antioxidants.

Specifically, eating plenty of anthocyanins has been shown to potentially reduce the risk of heart attack by up to 32%, again highlighting the potential for blueberries as a heart disease busting superfood (24, 25, 26).

In addition, blueberries can also play a role in lowering LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and blood pressure, both known contributors to heart disease (27, 28).

How to Select and Store

Look for plump and firm blueberries with a dark blue-violet colour. The batch should contain berries that are equal in size, in containers without juice or stains on the package (29).

Discard any berries that are misshapen or mouldy, and eat the very ripe ones first, preferably within a day. Unripe blueberries will be greenish-white on the bottom (31, 32).

For best results, always refrigerate or freeze blueberries when they are completely dry and only wash them just before consumption, as opposed to before storage which will cause them to deteriorate more quickly.

If stored properly, blueberries will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and, like most other berries, they can be frozen and kept for months at a time. (33)

Fear not, research has also shown that freezing has no effect on the antioxidant properties of blueberries, especially if they are frozen soon after harvesting (34, 35).

Sources for this article

  1. Wikipedia
  2. WHFoods
  3. U.S. Bluebush Highbury Council
  4. Authority Nutrition
  5. Greatist
  6. Nutrition Data
  7. Everyday Health
  8. US National Library of Medicine
  9. News Medical
  10. Agriculture Journals
  11. Health.com
  12. Medical News Today
  13. University of Maryland Medical Centre
  14. Scientific American
  15. Web MD
  16. Journal of Nutrition
  17. FoodReference.com
  18. Texas Pride Blueberries
  19. European Food Information Council

image credits: mrm-usainspiringtheeverydaydotcom

check out our recipes with blueberries

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