The Bountiful Benefits of Blueberries

Vaccinium cyanococcus, also known as the common blueberry, is regularly touted as a “superfood,” a “miracle fruit,” and “very tasty.” Blueberries have earned such high praise; their list of health benefits ranges from preventing cancer to improving cognitive function, and their combination of sweet and tart makes them a true delicacy. These minuscule berries and their minuscule-er parts offer colossal health benefits that make them a quintessential health food and a daily dietary necessity.

 

Fresh blueberries
(source: brx0 www.flickr.com/photos/atul666/257551906/)

Benefits

As far back as the 1950s, blueberries were being extolled for treating common ailments like diarrhea, pinwork infections, and infantile dyspepsia. Today, they’re more famous for their antioxidant potential – beget by their rich anthocyanin and phenol content – which is the reason for so many of their incredible health benefits. Some of these benefits include the following:

• Prevent cancer
• Prevent cognitive decline associated with aging and various diseases
• Prevent bone loss
• Lower blood pressure
• Reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes
• Help prevent urinary tract infections
• Reduce inflammation
• Reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress

It’s not just the antioxidants in blueberries that promote optimal health (they just happen to get all the attention). Blueberries also contain a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals, are a good source of fiber, and are an excellent source of low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates. One hundred grams of fresh blueberries (~2/3 C) contains 2.4 grams of fiber, 77 milligrams of potassium, 14.5 grams of carbohydrates and only 57 calories. This amount of berries also has an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC, a higher-is-better measure of free radical scavenging power) of 6552; that’s about 1500 and 3000 points higher than the same amount of raspberries and strawberries, respectively.

Processing and presentation

Besides being healthy, blueberries are also versatile. They come in forms ranging from fresh and frozen to canned, jammed, jellied and juiced. But do all of these various forms of blueberry goodness offer the same great health benefits? The short answer is no. Each of these methods does preserve the blueberry’s antioxidant content, but other factors must also be considered including shelf life, fiber content, and the addition of other ingredients (especially milk* and sugar). The following chart lists the pros and cons of the various blueberry processing methods and gives each an overall grade.

 

Muffins are a popular way to enjoy the benefits of blueberries.
(source: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blueberry_muffins.jpg)

 

Type Pros Cons Grade
Frozen • High antioxidant and nutrient content
• Fiber is preserved
• Long shelf life
• Antioxidant, vitamin and mineral content may still be reduced over time A
Fresh • High antioxidant and nutrient content
• Fiber is preserved
• Pesticides can be washed off
• Perishable
• Seasonal
• Expensive
A
Cooked • Antioxidant content is preserved
• Most vitamins and minerals are preserved
• Fiber is preserved
• Pesticides can be washed off before cooking
• Antiproliferative** activity is reduced (depending on the degree of heat used)
• Some vitamins and minerals may be destroyed
• Additional calories may be necessary depending on use
B
Dried • Antioxidant content is preserved
• Some vitamins and minerals may be concentrated
• Fiber is preserved
• Long shelf life
• Antiproliferative activity is reduced (varies according to drying method)
• Pesticides are concentrated
• Sugar content is concentrated
• Some vitamins and minerals may be destroyed
• Water content is lost
C
Canned • Antioxidant content is preserved
• Most vitamins and minerals are preserved
• Fiber is preserved
• Antiproliferative activity is reduced
• Pesticides may not be removed
• Some vitamins and minerals may be destroyed
• Extra sugar is usually added
• Additional calories are necessary for use in pies and pastries
C
Juice • Antioxidant content is preserved and extra may be added
• Most vitamins and minerals are preserved and extra may be added
• Antiproliferative activity is reduced
• Pesticides may not be removed
• Fiber is lost
• Some vitamins and minerals may be destroyed
• Sugar content is concentrated and extra may be added
D
Jam/jelly/spread • Antioxidant content is preserved
• Most vitamins and minerals are preserved
• Antiproliferative activity is reduced
• Pesticides may not be removed
• Fiber is lost
• Some vitamins and minerals may be destroyed
• Sugar content is concentrated and extra may be added
D
Beer • Gets you drunk • Gets you drunk n/a

 

Conclusion

Blueberries offer tremendous health benefits in a small, tasty package. You should be eating at least a cup of them (or at least some type of berry) everyday. Preferably, they would be of the fresh or frozen variety, but other forms still contain many health promoting ingredients and can be added to many dishes and desserts to improve their nutrient content.

*Combining blueberries with dairy, especially whole milk, reduces their antioxidant capacity.

**Antiproliferative in this case refers to inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.