12 Health Benefits of Blueberries
Blueberries are the fruits of a shrub that belong to the genus Vaccinium, which also includes cranberries and bilberries. Native to North America, blueberries can be found growing in many areas of the United States and Canada.
Blueberries grow in clusters and range in size from 10 cm to 4 m tall; the smaller species are known as “Lowbush blueberries”, and the larger species are “Highbush blueberries”.
They are also come in different colors, ranging from blue to dark blue to purple-black and feature a white-gray waxy “bloom” that covers the surface which serves as a protective layer. Cultivated blueberries are typically mildly sweet, while those that grow wild have a more tart and tangy flavor.
Blueberries Nutrition Facts
Blueberries are among the most nutrient dense berries. They are extremely rich in vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. In fact, one cup (148 grams) of blueberries provide 36% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin K, 24% of the RDA of vitamin C, and 25% of the RDA of manganese.
Blueberries are also a good source of dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium, folate, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin E, copper, and are packed with phytochemicals such as ellagic acid and anthocyanins which are responsible for the hue of these fruits. These compounds have been extensively researched for their antioxidant activity that helps protect the body against various diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Health Benefits of Blueberries
1. Prevent cancer
The vitamin A, vitamin C, and the various phytochemicals in blueberries are powerful antioxidants that may help protect cells against damage from free radicals.
Research suggests that the antioxidants may inhibit tumor growth and help ward off various cancer cells, including cancers of breast, intestine, prostate, and stomach .
Another lab studies published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that phenolic compounds in blueberries can inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation.
2. Improve memory
Blueberry consumption has been shown to improve memory and brain functions.
In animal studies, researchers have found that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger ones .
In a randomized, blind controlled study involving elderly people with early memory decline, blueberry supplementation improved memory in 12 weeks. Although the sample size was relatively small, the results from blueberry consumption seem promising .
Blueberry consumption has also demonstrated improvements in brain functions in children. In a double-blind controlled study in children aged 7-10, blueberries improved problem-solving and memory tasks proportional to the quantity consumed. Higher blueberry consumption leads to better testing scores .
3. Reduce heart disease risk
The presence of anthocyanins and fiber content in blueberries are beneficial to the heart as well.
According to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, regular consumption of anthocyanins can reduce the risk of heart attack by 32 percent in young and middle-aged women.
Moreover, the fiber content helps to reduce the total amount of cholesterol in the blood and decrease the risk of heart disease.
4. Lower blood pressure
Some studies have shown that diets supplemented with blueberry lower blood pressure and thus reduce the risk of developing heart attack.
A 2015 study, for example, found that daily blueberry consumption for eight weeks resulted in lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women .
Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition reported that blueberry supplementation led to significant decreases in blood pressure and oxidized LDL cholesterol in obese men and women .
5. Manage diabetes
Blueberries have a low Glycemic Index, which makes them an excellent snack for people who’re looking to manage their blood sugar levels.
In addition, research suggests that anthocyanins in blueberries can have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. These anti-diabetic effects have been shown with both blueberry juice and extract .
6. Reduce inflammation
Blueberries have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, possibly due to its anthocyanins.
A 2014 test-tube study even found that the polyphenols found in blueberries helped reduce the activity of several markers of inflammation .
Similarly, an animal study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology also found that blueberry extract was effective in reducing swelling in rat paws .
7. Improve eyesight
Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin A which is beneficial in fighting inflammation of the eyes. Blueberries also contain eye-healthy carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which have been shown to improve night vision as well as maintain general eye health.
8. Treat urinary tract infections
In petri-dish studies, wild blueberry extracts inhibited the growth of the main bacteria responsible for UTI .
9. Support digestion
Since blueberries are rich in fiber, they can not only help to relieve constipation, but also keep your digestive system healthy. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that people who consumed a wild blueberry drink for six weeks saw an increased concentration of gut microbiota crucial for gut health . So, snacking on blueberries regularly could provide a huge relief for your digestive system.
10. Promote bone health
Blueberries contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, and vitamin K, which are all play an essential role in bone health. The polyphenols in blueberries also help with improved bone mass.
A 2013 study found that rats supplemented with 10% whole blueberry (BB) powder had a greater increased bone mass than rats that did not receive the blueberry powder .
11. Ease depression symptoms
Another benefit of consuming blueberries is that it keeps depression at bay. According to a 2016 study, consuming blueberries can help reduce the genetic and biochemical drivers behind depression and suicidal tendencies linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) .
Previous research also supports a blueberry-enriched diet can increase levels of serotonin in the brain, which might help alleviate depression.
Lower productions of serotonin are thought to be a major cause of depression. In fact, many of the most common antidepressants are called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and they work by preventing neurons from reabsorbing serotonin, which can help to rebalance the amount of neurotransmitter in the brain. This rebalancing can then lead to improved mood.
12. Aids in weight loss
Blueberries are rich in fiber and low in calories, which make them the ideal snack to have in-between meals for those who are looking to lose weight.
In addition, blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, which have beneficial effects on obesity and related metabolic complications .
An animal study conducted by the Cardiovascular Center and the Michigan Integrative Medicine Program also found that blueberry intake was associated with a reduction in belly fat for obese rats.
How to Select and Store Blueberries
Be sure to choose blueberries that are plump, firm and have a uniform hue colored with a whitish bloom. Avoid blueberries that look dull in color and are soft in texture, as this may indicate that they are damaged or moldy.
Blueberries should be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator where they will keep for about a week. Always check berries before storing and remove any damaged berries to prevent the spread of mold. Blueberries are highly perishable so do try to consume them as soon as possible.
Blueberries can also be frozen, although this will slightly change their texture and flavor. Before freezing, wash, drain and remove any damaged berries, then put the berries in a plastic bag for storage in the freezer. Frozen blueberries will keep for a year at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.