Summer is here and so are all the tasty, refreshing, and healthy fruits that these seasons bring! May begins the start of the blueberry harvest, and besides the festivals and events to celebrate, there are so many reasons to enjoy and acknowledge nature’s beautiful blue morsel.
You may have heard talk of the importance of variety and color in the diet, and both points are extremely valid. Not only is variety the spice of life, but it is also the combination of foods that provide balance and proper nourishment. This is especially important when it comes to fruits and vegetables, which offer phytochemicals or “plant chemicals,” that give the fruits and vegetables their color. These molecules are found naturally in plant foods, and function to protect the plants – they also have been found to serve many important disease fighting capabilities within the human body.
Phytochemicals are one type of a larger class called antioxidants. Antioxidants function to neutralize damage to the body’s cells by preventing the formation of free radicals caused by oxidative damage. Blueberries are rich in phytochemicals, particularly a type of flavonoid called anthocyanins, which give them their blue color. Anthocyanins are a compound that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.1 There are hundreds of different phytochemicals, along with sources they are found in, so what makes blueberries so special?
Besides that scrumptious sweet taste, blueberries are what I like to call a food that gives you more bang for your buck…meaning that you are getting the most out of each and every one of those 40 calories in that ½ cup serving. That means fiber, vitamins C & E, and micronutrients such as potassium, folate, calcium, manganese, selenium, and phytochemicals such as beta carotene, lutein, and of course the anthocyanins!2 Research continues to show the health benefits that anthocyanins contribute. One of the biggest benefits they are known for is their effect on cardiovascular health. Studies examining anthocyanin containing berries in populations with cardiovascular disease risk factors have shown significant improvement in these risk factor outcomes.2 Studies have also shown that anthocyanins may help to prevent hypertension, based on examining habitual intake of anthocyanins.
It is the different chemical structure of the compound that allows it to have this effect on blood pressure, a unique quality of the berry that not all other fruits have.3 The heart is not the only organ that anthocyanins may benefit. Blueberry juice consumption was shown to affect the brain through memory improvement,1 and blueberries were also associated with lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.4 Because of their antioxidant capacity, blueberries are also known for their cancer-fighting properties due to their ability to destroy cancer cells, prevent inflammation and cancer cell growth, and use their antioxidant properties to prevent oxidation and DNA damage to cells.5,6
Now that you know all about the health benefits of blueberries, how can you incorporate them into your diet? Fresh and frozen blueberries are the best forms of consumption because processing and heat can destroy some of the nutrients and beneficial compounds in the fruit. Knowing that, try adding blueberries to snacks such as smoothies, cottage cheese and yogurt, or incorporating them into meals by adding to oatmeal, cereal, or salads. Get creative – try making a blueberry salsa or adding them to a glass of lemon water! Whatever you choose, let blueberries add to your daily color. As you are enjoying the fresh seasonal offerings, you can savor the satisfaction knowing that there is so much goodness packed into that little blue morsel.
©Adrienne Hatch, MS, RD, LD/N
- Krikorian R et al. Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. J Agric Food Chem 2010; 58(7): 3996-4000.
- Arpita B, Rhone M, and Lyons TJ. Berries: Emerging impact on cardiovascular health. Nutr Rev 2010; 68(3): 168-177.
- Cassidy A et al. Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 93: 338-347.
- Wedick NM et al. Dietary flavonoid intakes and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95(4): 925-933.
- Weiguang Y et al. Phenolic compounds from blueberries can inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation and induce apoptosis. J Agric Food Chem 2005; 53(18): 7320-7329.
- Johnson SA, and Arjmandi BH. Evidence for anti-cancer properties of blueberries: A mini-review. Anticancer Agents Med Chem 2013 [epublication]. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23387969. Accessed April 30, 2013.