Friday, 4 April 2014

Blueberries - a modern superfood

Blueberries
Source: Flickr
When you think of healthy foods, the humble blueberry may not be the first thing that comes to mind. The health benefits of blueberries are numerous however, and they are one of the best healthy foods to eat if you want to keep your body in optimum health.

Benefits of blueberries


  • High in antioxidants
  • High in vitamins
  • Reduce fat
  • Improve heart health
  • Boost memory
  • Reduce cancer risk

Antioxidants


Blueberries are very high in antioxidants. In fact, they have been found to contain more antioxidants than most other fruits, and this carries significant health benefits. These health benefits include a better complexion, reduced risk of cancer, and a stronger immune system.You may even end up looking younger as you age.
Blueberry cereal
Source: Flickr

In this Cambridge study looking at serum levels of antioxidants, blueberries caused a significant increase to the serum level and reduced free radicals after a high fat meal. This shows that the antioxidants in blueberries are able to be absorbed and have a dramatic effect on your body's ability to deal with free radicals.

Vitamins and minerals


Blueberries are also high in certain vitamins and minerals like most fruits. They are rather high in manganese, and contribute to your intake of other minerals, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Manganese in particular may be important in the prevention of diabetes.

People with diabetes are shown to have a lower intake of manganese, and this may mean that insufficient intake of this mineral is a contributor to type 2 diabetes. A lack of manganese can even provoke glucose tolerance. Other symptoms of deficiency include abnormal bones, decreased wound healing, and decreased metabolism of other nutrients you eat. Blueberries are such a good source of manganese that they make it easy to avoid all of this.

Bowl of blueberries
Source: Flickr

Weight loss


There are studies into the anti-obesity properties of whole blueberries and their active antioxidant compounds. In one such study, rats that were fed a diet promoting obesity were found to avoid excess weight gain when blueberry juice or blueberry antioxidants were added to their diet. This is compared to rats fed an obesogenic diet without blueberries, which caused weight gain. This suggests that blueberries are able to decrease the weight gain associated with an unhealthy high calorie diet, and may be able to benefit weight loss overall.





In another study concerning diabetes, subjects who were either non-diabetic, obese, or insulin-resistant were given blueberry extract. The extract was found to improve insulin sensitivity in all subjects. What this means is that blueberries could be a way to reduce your risk of diabetes and maintain high insulin sensitivity over time.

Heart health


Blueberry smoothie
Source: Flickr
Blueberries may also have a beneficial role in heart health. In studies of heart damage, blueberries were found to protect the heart from ischemia. They are also able to reduce hypertension in rat subjects who are prone to strokes, reducing the chance of suffering a stroke. After 6 weeks, systolic blood pressure in the blueberry group was reduced by 30 percent. Finally, blueberries can reduce LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, and lowering it accordingly can reduce your risk.

Memory


Whilst the jury is still out on this one, there is some evidence that eating blueberries every day can contribute to a boosted and healthy memory. In a study of older adults concerning memory, blueberry juice was found to improve word recall and learning. Similarly, rats fed a blueberry supplement showed improved object recognition compared to controls, and blueberries may protect against brain damage from ischemia.

It's still early days when it comes to the health benefits of blueberries for the brain and memory, but based on these studies, it's apparent that blueberries could become the next big thing for natural dementia prevention and cognitive health.

Blueberries and pineapple
Source: Flickr

Prevent cancer


On top of all the other benefits of blueberries, they may also reduce your chances of getting cancer. In particular, a protective effect is seen towards prostate cancer and colon cancer. A study into the phenolic compounds like anthocyanins in blueberries demonstrated a dramatic 50 percent inhibition of liver cancer growth. More than that, blueberries may even trigger apoptosis in cancer cells, helping to kill tumours. 

The implications of this doesn't mean that blueberries should be used as a treatment for cancer, but they may have some ability to enhance other conventional cancer treatments, and to prevent cancers from occurring in the first place.

How many blueberries should you eat?


When it comes to how many of these tasty morsels you should eat every day, there's no one-size fits all mentality. Of course, if they're one of your favourite foods, feel free to eat as much as you want, they're very low in calories and healthier than other snacks. 

To get the most benefits from blueberries however, aim for at least one cup of blueberries per day. This amount is enough to reap the benefits to your brain, and the antioxidants from these blueberries surpass the quantity found in much larger servings of other fruits and vegetables. 

If eating fresh blueberries is a problem due to availability or shelf life, you can try frozen blueberries instead. Thaw a cup of frozen blueberries in the fridge every night and you'll have plenty of blueberries ready to eat every day.

Blueberries
Source: Flickr

Eating more blueberries


Eating more blueberries isn't hard considering how delicious they are. It's more a matter of substituting them for the less healthy desserts and snacks you usually eat. By eating blueberries and other fresh fruit instead of foods like chocolate and cake, you cut out a lot of calories whilst boosting your intake of vitamins and minerals. Because blueberries are full of water, they can even keep you more hydrated if you eat them daily.

Some of the ways you might want to enjoy blueberries could include eating them by themselves or with other forms of berries as a snack, mixing them into yogurt, spreading blueberry jam onto your morning toast, or incorporating a blueberry compote into you favourite dessert. Sauces like compotes are lower in sugar compared to a lot of other dessert sauces because they're made from reduced fruit, and they usually don't include added fat, which tends to already be high in most desserts. Blueberry compote is also a low GI food, so it's absorbed and converted into energy over a longer period of time compared to other foods.

To kick-start your interest in blueberries, you might want to try a few new recipes:


Blueberry compote


Blueberry compote
Source: Flickr
  • 400 grams fresh blueberries
  • 3 Tbs raw sugar
  • 3 Tbs of water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  1. To make compote, you essentially want to slowly simmer fruit until it begins to breakdown and release its moisture, creating a fruit reduction. Start by mixing all ingredients together in a pan on moderate heat. 
  2. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat down and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes.
  3. Serve compote warm

When making blueberry compote, you can feel free to substitute fresh blueberries for canned or frozen blueberries. Frozen blueberries in particular will break down and form a smooth sauce when defrosted quickly in the pan. In this case, what is usually an annoyance, is actually beneficial to making a velvety sauce. 

You can also decide on your own consistency, cooking the mixture until it is smooth and thick, or incorporating more fresh berries into the cooked mixture to add a little bite. The sugar can be increased or decreased as desired, but remember that less sugar, whilst not tasting as sweet, is better for your health.

Blueberry muffin
Source: Flickr
Other recipes you might enjoy






It's important to have a balanced diet. This means lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, eggs, and nuts. Blueberries are just one of the great ingredients you can add to your recipes to vamp them up and increase nutrition, and other berries like raspberries and strawberries are also very beneficial to your health. The best way to eat a balanced diet and incorporate lots of fresh ingredients is to take the recipes you enjoy and look at how you can add more nutrition to them. You'll feel and look better as a result.

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