Folded into pancakes or muffins, tossed into a container of Greek yogurt or a bowl of fruit salad, or eaten by the handfuls right off the blueberry bush, nothing packs the kind of sweet perfection like these little blue pearls of nature.
Yet blueberries are more than just delicious. They are packed with healthy nutrients that dietitians have found go beyond fulfilling our required need for daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Exactly what is it about the chemical composition that makes this little fruit deliver such a healthy punch?
Consider this from Women
“A new university of Michigan Cardiovascular Center study suggests that blueberries may help reduce belly fat and risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.”
The study, presented at the 2009 Experimental Biology conference, stated that diets rich in blueberries can lower blood cholesterol levels while improving glucose control and insulin sensitivity. That means eating blueberries might lower the risk of subsequent heart disease and diabetes.
Blueberries are loaded with disease-fighting nutrients and packed with antioxidants and immune-system-building minerals such as copper, selenium, zinc and iron, which promote immunity by raising hemoglobin and oxygen levels in the blood.
They also neutralize free radicals in the body, which affect disease and aging, due to their abundance of antioxidants and vitamin C.
Studies have found that blueberries may aid in the reduction of belly fat, according to the University of Michigan study. The experiment was conducted on rats that were given a blueberry-enriched powder diet. After 90 days, the rats had “less abdominal fat, lower triglycerides, lower cholesterol and improved fasting glucose and insulin sensitivity.”
Blueberries have been found to promote urinary tract health, much like cranberries, because they have a compound formed of big, polymer-like heavy molecules. These inhibit the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract walls.
Blueberries have been found to preserve vision. Because they extract high compounds of anthocyanosides, the berries have been shown to slow down vision loss.
They have also been proven to prevent or delay age-related ocular problems, including macular degeneration, cataract, myopia and hypermetropia, dryness and infections.
Blueberries are packed with healthy fiber, helping to prevent constipation and aid in digestion because they are packed with vitamins, sodium, copper, fructose and acids that improve digestion.
Blueberries also are effective in fighting cancers.
For instance, pterostilbene helps fight colon and liver cancer. Ellagic acid, when in harmony with anthocyanin and other antioxidants found in blueberries, has been found to prevent and treat cancer.
In fact, laboratory studies published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have shown that “phenolic compounds in blueberries can inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation and induce apoptosis. A significant reduction in ovarian cancer was also documented in women who have the highest intake of flavones luteolin,” which is found in blueberries and citrus fruits.
Adrienne Hatch, a Clinical Research Coordinator and a registered dietitian for Meridian Research Associates, said blueberries are important to a healthy diet because they have so many unique benefits besides the vitamins and fiber found in many fruits.
They also have phytochemicals, which are chemical compounds, or “plant chemicals,” that occur naturally in plants. The blueberry’s blue pigment, in fact, is from a phytochemical called anthocyanin that research has proven is important for fighting certain diseases.
“There is a lot we still have to learn about anthocyanins,” Hatch said. “But we are starting to know a lot about how they can positively affect certain health conditions.”
For instance, anthocyanins can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, Hatch said. “There are studies that prove they may have an effect on inflammatory enzymes in the body that could lead to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.”
Further research, Hatch added, indicates that anthocyanins also can decrease or slow down the inflammatory processes that can cause cognitive decline in the brain. They also may share in the same effects as cranberries on the bladder.
Blueberries’ antioxidant value is tremendous. Antioxidants protect the body from oxidative damage, Hatch explained. “Even though we need oxygen to live, in the same respects, oxidative damage can actually affect our cells by leading to diseases further down the line that,” she said. “Antioxidants stop that metabolic process or break down to protect us from that oxidative damage.”
Hatch has been coordinating trials for Meridien Research for about a year and half, she said. “I have prior research experience throughout my masters and dietetic internship programs.”
Research, she said, is an ever-growing field. “We are always learning and always being challenged.”
One major challenge in nutrition, she added, stems from deciphering fact from fiction.
“A big part of what we do in educating is communicating what is true. There are a lot of celebrity and fad diets that celebrities and media will promote, and yet they have not been proven to be safe, effective, or long lasting,” she said.
The right information stems from factually based studies that can be traced to reliable sources.
Yet one fundamental truth remains at the forefront of healthier eating habits that lead to good nutrition: Selecting a variety of healthy choices while maintaining active lifestyles are still the basics behind any healthier plan of action.
While blueberries add an impressive amount of disease-fighting anthocyanins and other nutrients important for a healthy body, Hatch said they are still only part of the variety of fruits and vegetables we need daily.
Choosing wisely and maintaining nature’s nutrients through fresh and certain uncooked fruits and vegetables are the best ways to maintain good health, she added. However, frozen fruits and vegetables also are good choices. “A great example is adding frozen blueberries to a smoothie.”
And enjoying Florida blueberries in whatever way you choose are certainly part of that routine and are, at least for a few more weeks, ripe for the picking.