Blueberries: Health benefits and nutritional value

Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Author Martin Cheifetz

Every once in awhile, something enters your life appearing to be “perfect”.  It rarely is. Except for blueberries. They’re pretty perfect. If they weren’t so expensive, they’d be absolutely perfect.

As with many of the foods we write about, there are numerous potential health benefits with blueberries.  At the risk of overstating the obvious, simply eating blueberries is not the key to the fountain of youth: it will not reverse years of being sedentary or smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, or drinking too much alcohol, or eating nothing but fast food.  

Being healthy is often the combination of lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, sleep, and other habitual factors), the genetic lottery for hereditary diseases, and very often, a dose of good luck. But eating blueberries is definitely a step in the right direction for good overall health, and there are absolutely no negatives….apart from their cost and the stains they make on your sofa or carpet if you squish one (or two).

 

What makes blueberries so good for you?

Blueberries are low in calories and high in nutrients.

If you’re interested in losing weight and/or simply being healthy, this is the ratio you want. The opposite (high calories and low nutrient value….think ‘donuts’) is one of the root causes of the obesity epidemic in western countries. Blueberry muffins are not a good way to get the benefits of blueberries, so please don’t think that a blueberry muffin is a nutritious breakfast. Blueberries in your oatmeal is a good breakfast. A blueberry muffin is not. 1 cup (148g) of blueberries contains 84 calories, 0.5g of fat (0 saturated), 0 cholesterol and 3.6g of dietary fiber. By comparison, a 126 gram Starbucks blueberry muffin has 350 calories, 12g of fat (half of which is saturated) 80mg of cholesterol (27% of DV) and only 1g of dietary fiber.

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients.

In fact, blueberries have among the highest antioxidant score of any food on the planet and antioxidants are incredibly beneficial for overall well-being. Phytonutrients are plant compounds that have specific health benefits. The deep blue color of blueberries comes from their high anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins in richly colored foods like berries and eggplant help reduce oxidative stress which can damage your DNA. The other important flavonoid in blueberries are proanthocyanidins which have been shown to be very effective in reducing inflammation throughout the body. Blueberries are also a very good source of vitamin K (36% of DV), vitamin C (25% of DV) and manganese (25% of DV). Blueberries are also a good source of fiber (17% of DV) and copper.

Blueberries are low on the glycemic index.

Like all berries, blueberries are low on the glycemic index (GI). This is important for people looking to regulate blood sugar and control insulin response.

Blueberries are delicious!

They’re sweet. They’re tart. They’re fabulous. Depending on where you live and season of the year, they can range from expensive to very expensive. My personal recommendation for using blueberries in anything other than a fresh fruit salad is to buy frozen blueberries. They’re much less expensive, they don’t get squished, and the nutrient value is locked in and arguably higher than the fresh fruit. Why? Because they’re “flash frozen” the same day they’re picked, so the nutrients are preserved as they come off the vine as opposed to the “fresh fruit” that is several days (or weeks) old by the time it lands in the “fresh fruit” aisle. Try using frozen blueberries in this week’s delicious FitnessGenes recipe: Blueberry mountain smoothie.

The health benefits of blueberries

Weight loss

Low in calories, low GI, and high in fiber are all useful properties when watching your weight. I refer to my earlier comment about not eating your blueberries via a muffin if controlling your calories and/or blood sugar are items on your daily “to-do” list.

Cardiovascular benefits

According to multiple studies in the USA and the UK, there is a strong correlation between blueberry consumption and lowered risk of heart disease. Blueberries have also been shown to lower blood pressure, improve lipid profiles, and favorably alter cholesterol profiles.

Brain function

There is evidence that the high levels of antioxidants in blueberries help improve cognition and memory.

Reduction of oxidative stress

Blueberries have been shown to reduce cell and DNA damaging oxidative stress and reduce exercise induced muscular inflammation, which is another good reason to enjoy our blueberry mountain smoothie as a nutritious, refreshing post-workout recovery drink!

Eye and skin health

There is also evidence to suggest that the wide range of phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals in blueberries are good natural remedies to help soothe acne, mitigate the effects of macular degeneration, and help ease the damage to skin and eyes caused by exposure to the sun.

 

The genetics

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