By: Brandi Propas, Registered Dietitian at Health City Cayman Islands
Fruit is a vital part of healthy eating, with current guidelines recommending adults consume a minimum of four cups of fruit and vegetables every day. With their long list of health benefits, blueberries are a perfect choice to increase your daily intake.
Blueberries are high in the essential vitamins A, C, E and K, which provide a host of individual benefits, ranging from healthy skin, good vision and bone growth to potential Alzheimer’s prevention, hip fracture determent and reduced cancer risk. Blueberries also contain the mineral iron, which helps transport oxygen throughout our cells and is required for the production of amino acids, collagen, hormones and neurotransmitters. And, as all fruits are, blueberries are a great source of natural fiber.
Perhaps most unique about blueberries is their high concentration of phytochemicals, which are non-nutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive qualities. Blueberries are rich in one phytochemical in particular: anthocyanins. These naturally occurring chemicals give blueberries (and other foods such as blackberries, eggplants and beets) their deep reddish purple or blue color, and provide anti-inflammatory properties.
Anthocyanins also function as antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals, the unstable molecules in our bodies linked to cancer development.
One study1, published in 2012 in the Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE B – Biomedicine & Biotechnology, found blueberries, blackberries and strawberries cultivated in Nanjing, China, to have strong antioxidant capacity and contain a variety of phenolic compounds.
“The blueberries had the strongest total antioxidant capacity,” the report concluded. “The blueberries had particularly high levels of anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins, which may be responsible for their very strong antioxidant activity.”
Another group of researchers studied the antioxidant capacity of blueberry leaf tea, the results of which were published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 20092. The study determined blueberry leaf tea should sit high on the list of dietary sources of antioxidants.
The ways you can use blueberries are endless. Make a tea with the leaves. Eat the berries fresh on their own or added to salads, smoothies, cereal, yogurt, oatmeal or pancakes. Get creative and make a blueberry compote to top yogurt, use it to make a fruity salad dressing, or try a sweet and tangy blueberry barbecue sauce.
Blueberry season runs domestically from April to September, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. Outside of blueberry season, if you can’t find fresh imported berries, consider as alternatives frozen blueberries or blueberry extract or powder, which are both now being produced thanks to the emerging science supporting the fruit’s benefits.
1Huang, W., Zhang, H., Liu, W., & Li, C. (2012). Survey of antioxidant capacity and phenolic composition of blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry in Nanjing . Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B, 13(2), 94–102. http://doi.org/10.1631/jzus.B1100137
2Piljac-Zegarac J., Belsscak A., Piljac A. (2009). Antioxidant capacity and polyphenolic content of blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) leaf infusions. J Med Food, 12(3), 608-14. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2008.0081