Are Blueberries the Ultimate Superfood?

Their bright color and delicious flavor alone may be tempting, but the health benefits of blueberries are astounding. From heart disease to memory loss, blueberries may help you fight off illness, while adding sweetness to your life.

Compared to other fruits and vegetables, blueberries are loaded with antioxidants – a class of compounds that may help prevent heart disease, cancer, and other serious health conditions by ridding the body of harmful free radicals. Their high levels of Vitamin C and fiber don’t hurt either!

Blueberries May Reduce Heart Attack Risk

The Harvard Health Letter recently announced new research findings, just in time for National Blueberry Month. Researchers reported that women who ate more than two servings of blueberries or strawberries per week were 34% less likely to experience heart attacks, compared to women who rarely at them.

These findings were gleaned from the Nurses’ Health Study, a project that has followed more than 90,000 women over multiple decades. However, the researchers suspect that men could benefit from eating blueberries and strawberries, too.

“It is our underlying hypothesis that these foods are beneficial because they are high in anthocyanins,” explains Dr. Eric Rimm, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. Anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid, have been shown to lower blood pressure and make blood vessels more elastic, while also lending blueberries their vivid hue.

However, there may be more factors at work, cautions Rimm, who fears that taking an anthocyanin pill may not provide the same benefits. Play it safe and skip the supplements – and stock up on whole blueberries instead.

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Blueberries Keep Your Mind Sharp

In another look at the Nurses’ Health Study data, researchers found that women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries enjoyed the greatest delays in cognitive aging. Over time, those women preserved greater brain function than participants who rarely or never ate berries, report the study authors in the journal Annals of Neurology.

A recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry also links blueberry consumption to improved memory among older adults, including men and women. The researchers recruited a small number of participants with age-related memory loss, such as forgetfulness. After twelve weeks, those participants who drank daily doses of wild blueberry juice scored higher on memory tasks than those who didn’t.

Blueberries May Improve Overall Health

Blueberries may also improve your overall health in myriad unexpected ways. Eating more of those tiny blue flavor bombs might also help you:

  • Slim down. Clocking in at less than 100 calories per cup, blueberries make for smart snacking. They also contain phytochemicals that could influence the way your body stores and burns fat, helping you trim your waistline and cut your risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, according to research from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. 
  • Bulk up on bone. In research conducted at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, rats that were fed blueberry powder had significantly greater bone mass than animals on a blueberry-free diet.
  • Stay limber. Resveratrol, a compound found in blueberries, has been dubbed a “miracle molecule” by researchers at the 2012 National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. It has been shown to slow the loss of motor coordination among aging mice.

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Blueberries: An Easy Blue Pill to Swallow

So, how many of those tasty little gems should you be eating?

“It’s hard to say, because berries have so many efficacies against so many different human health conditions,” explains Mary Ann Lila, Director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “But a general rough ballpark would be half-a-cup a day.”

To get your fill, add fresh, dried, or quick-frozen blueberries to:

  • Bowls of cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt
  • Plates of spinach salad, with toasted nuts and lemon vinaigrette
  • Batches of pancakes, muffins, or banana bread for polka-dotted bursts of flavor; however, be aware that baking and heating may reduce some of the healthful phytochemicals that make blueberries so beneficial.
  • Homemade smoothies or popsicles

Of course, you can always enjoy blueberries straight from the basket, as a simple refreshing snack. After all – when it comes to food, why mess with perfection?

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