The mighty Blueberry


An eternal American favorite, the diminutive blueberry is a little powerhouse of goodness (no wonder those grizzlies love them so). Multiple scientific studies have been done around the world on the various benefits of eating blueberries and all have concluded that if you add these tiny, yet potent little berries to your weekly diet (2-3 cups a week) you will definitely improve your health and probably in more ways than one.

Proven to improve vascular health, help prevent cancer, improve bone health, help control diabetes, improve mental health, protect your lungs from decline AND improve your eyesight. All in that one tiny little blue berry.

As we’ve discussed before, the more colorful your range of food products (naturally colorful, that is) the greater variety of health benefits you will derive from your food. The deep blue/purple color of the blueberry is what tells you how rich in “good stuff” it is. The color comes from a plant compound called anthocyanin (you’ll recognize the “cyan” bit from the blue color in your printer.) It is this anthocyanin that gives blueberries both their  beautiful color and many of their health benefits.

While it is always preferable to eat fresh, local produce where possible and, of course, to buy organic or wild, sometimes it just isn’t possible. Fortunately there are plenty of other options for blueberries; you can get them frozen or dried and both options are almost as good as fresh off the plant. Though right now is the best time to get fresh, the shops of full of delicious berries from now till the end of summer.

Wild blueberries are particularly potent. They are smaller than the cultivated versions most often found in your supermarket, with about twice the number of berries per pound. They also have less water and a higher skin-to-pulp ratio. That means the wild versions have more intense flavor and double the antioxidant content. It is the antioxidant content that makes them so good at cancer prevention and vision improvement. (Trader Joe’s have great frozen wild blueberries – always have some in your freezer!)

My son and I did a 4 month experiment eating a minimum of two berry based smoothies a day for 4 months, mainly to see if it showed any difference in our vision. After the 4 month period I had my eyes tested. For the first time in my adult life there was no change in my prescription – usually there has been some, if only a little, deterioration each time and indeed, you will be told to expect that post-40, so I for one will be continuing munching on as many berries as possible. (My son has still to go for his eye test, but I am hoping he will show at least the same.)

That is just our little experiment though, there have been many official studies done:

  • Harvard researchers measured cognitive function in 16,010 participants 70 years and older. Based on dietary questionnaires, they concluded that eating more blueberries slowed cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years.

It works for young people, too. In a study in The Journal of Nutrition, 14 children aged 8 to 10 years old consumed a blueberry drink or placebo. Two hours later they completed a battery of five cognitive tests. The blueberry drink significantly improved delayed recall of a list of words.

  • A double-blinded, randomized, and placebo-controlled clinical study in The Journal of Nutrition foundthat bioactive compounds found in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity.

Twice a week researchers had 32 obese, non-diabetic, insulin-resistant patients drink smoothies with or without 22.5 grams of blueberry bioactives. After six weeks, the blueberry group improved their insulin sensitivity by a factor of four over the placebo group.

  • A study in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed 839 participants from the VA (Veterans Affairs) Normative Aging Study.

Over 16 years, it found that men who ate two or more servings of blueberries a week had up to 37.9 percent less decline in their lung function compared to those who ate no or very little blueberries.

  • And perhaps the largest study so far: Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia reviewed the berry-eating habits of 93,600 women between the ages of 25 and 42 over 18 years. The women were part of the Nurses’ Health Study II. Researchers concluded that women who ate three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries per week reduced their risk of heart attack by as much as one-third.

And it really had to be berries. Women who ate a diet rich in other fruits and vegetables did not enjoy the same reduced heart attack risk.

So, if you don’t eat 2-3 cups a week of blueberries all ready (and personally I would recommend more, especially when mixed with other berries) then you really should consider it. They’re delicious, fat free, no added sugar, have all the benefits listed above and are so easy to eat – just eat them as they are or toss in a salad, on top of cereal or yoghurt. If you bake, add them to your cakes or layer them on top, particularly good with cheesecake or pies. YUM! Just saw a delicious sounding recipe for a blueberry, pear and hazelnut cake (on sainsburys) – may be trying that very soon!






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