“It happens every time. They all become blueberries!”
-Willy Wonka, ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ (1971 film)
Last month, I wrote about some of the health benefits of strawberries and mentioned part of the effort and reward of stumbling across such a find in one’s own garden. My strawberries have now ripened and several cunning thieves shaped like adorable cotton-tailed bunnies challenge me daily for the best the vines have to offer. This month, I can report similar satisfaction along with some anxiety regarding a substantial thicket of ripening blueberry bushes. Thus far, it has been a waiting game on the blueberry front, with the critters having the advantage.
As a registered dietitian (RD) and nutritionist, I am aware of the blueberry’s reputation as a nutritional powerhouse or “superfood,” though it is also clear that the media’s agenda in making such claims is often to target your wallet in addition to your well-being. Always take statements about “miracle foods” and “magic bullets” with a grain (or bucket) of salt. Even health professionals get confused with all of the contradictory information flying around in print and online, though there is a general consensus that blueberries are one of the most beneficial foods you can regularly choose for your overall health. For this reason, I decided to provide OKRA readers with some simple facts and tips about blueberries.
Think BLUEMAN to recall the benefits of blueberries:
Urinary Tract Health
Enhancement of Vision
Blueberries are one of the highest rated foods in terms of antioxidant power, and are exceptionally high in proanthocyanidins, which prevent degenerative diseases. The blueberry’s high antioxidant capacity translates to strong protection for the cardiovascular system, and reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Such conditions have been connected to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
Blueberries are brain food. The same anthocyanin compounds that create the distinctive color of the blueberry also increase brain function, positively impact vision, and guard against macular degeneration. (The more vivid the color, the more of these compounds the fruit contains.) Blueberries are considered a memory-protecting food, and somewhat of a buffer against mental deterioration, loss of coordination, and balance. Research has suggested that blueberries help to increase neuron communication (“signaling”) in the brain.
Blueberries also contain compounds that lower serum cholesterol and promote urinary tract health (prepare to share, cranberry). One particular compound (pterostilbene) aids in fatty acid metabolism, thus increasing lipid-lowering ability, thereby helping to prevent plaque deposit in the arteries.
If that weren’t enough, the ellagic acid in blueberries has been associated with anti-cancer activity.
So those are some of the biggest reasons to add blueberries to your daily diet if you haven’t done so already. Now I’m going to give you some suggestions to maximize those blueberry thrills.
Recommendations from this Registered Dietitian (RD):
Curb your enthusiasm. Many of us prefer to consume our blueberries, pomegranates, mangoes, carrots, raspberries, or other “5 A Day” foods in liquid form. But avoid calorie overload by way of excessive fruit and/or vegetable juice. If you can’t give up your favorite 100% juice, mix half of it with seltzer or water. Keep in mind that whole fresh fruit or vegetables will always have the lowest calorie count. (One cup of blueberries has 80 calories per cup.)
Grow a thicker skin. That sediment that most of us view as “gunk” on the bottom of commercial berry juice bottles is beneficial; bits of the fruit skin are likely to be swirling at the bottle’s bottom and contribute to the sediment. The blueberry’s skin is the primary source of beneficial antioxidants. Just be sure to shake the bottle before serving.
Take a ride on the wild side. Wild blueberries are smaller than cultivated, with more intense flavor. That means, ounce for ounce, you can expect more antioxidants in wild blueberries, as they have more skin per ounce, and the greatest nutritional benefits are concentrated in the blueberry’s skin.
Any way you want it. One half cup a day of fresh or frozen blueberries is enough to provide significant health benefits. All forms of the fruit have proanthocyanins, so view fresh and frozen blueberries as equivalent. Most of us are budget-conscious; frozen blueberries are generally less expensive and readily available in most grocery store freezer sections.
I’m not sure how long it will take for the blueberries in my own garden to ripen, or if the thieving bunnies and their flying and furry friends will ransack the bushes of their bounty. With much to learn as a gardener, I have learned to appreciate the blueberry from a new perspective and look forward to harvesting my first batch. In the meantime I will prepare next month’s article and optimistically research recipes for rabbit stew.