8 reasons you should be adding more blueberries to your diet

blueberriesBlueberries have become increasingly popular because of their well-deserved reputation as a superfood; this healthy fruit is also delicious, convenient, and readily available.

Loaded with antioxidants, blueberries are low in calories, so they make a perfect addition to any diet, including most low-carb plans.

Before they ripen, these fruits first appear on the flowering shrub as small, green berries that take on colors ranging from purple to various shades of blue as they mature.

The most common variety available in America comes from highbush blueberries, while lowbush blueberries are sometimes referred to as “wild;” the second type are a bit smaller when ripe, and contain larger quantities of certain antioxidants.

1. Of all the berries you could choose to eat, blueberries are among the richest in important nutrients.

Not only are they fiber-rich at 4 grams per serving, but they deliver more than a third of the RDI for vitamin K and about a quarter of the RDIs for vitamin C and manganese. (1)

Water and calorie content match almost exactly, at 85% and 84, respectively, and carb count for a single cup is only 15. (2)

It’s hard to go wrong adding blueberries to your diet, so let’s take a look at what you can expect from these little powerhouses.

2. Blueberries are Rich in Antioxidants

We hear a lot about antioxidants, and blueberries pack a punch with generous quantities of polyphenols categorized as flavonoids; anthocyanins are the sub-group most abundant in blueberries and believed to provide most of the active antioxidant compounds. (3)

Antioxidants matter, because they offer protection from unstable molecules called free radicals, which wreak havoc on cellular structures and are known to contribute to the aging process as well as playing a pivotal role in the development of chronic diseases, such as cancer. (4)

Blueberries may contain the highest levels of antioxidants found in commonly eaten vegetables and fruits. (5) Eating blueberries has a direct positive effect on antioxidants present in the body. (6)

3. Preventing damage to DNA is another way blueberries can benefit your health, potentially slowing the aging process and heading off the development of chronic diseases like cancer. (7)

While DNA damage is unavoidable, occurring thousands of times daily in every cell, neutralizing free radicals with antioxidants reduces this damage. (8)

A month-long study with 168 participants clearly illustrated the benefits of taking in high levels of antioxidants; oxidative damage from free radicals dropped by a whopping 20% after subjects drank a full liter of mixed apple and blueberry juice daily. (9)

Fresh and powdered blueberries had similar effects in other studies. (10, 11)

Oxidative stress can also negatively impact brain function, and animal studies show a diet rich in antioxidants leads to higher concentrations of these substances in the area of the brain associated with intelligence. (12)

Researchers believe antioxidants interact directly with aging neurons to improve signaling capacity, which could decrease the chances of developing neurological disorders. (13)

In a small 12-week human study, 9 elderly test subjects suffering from mild cognitive dysfunction drank blueberry juice daily; results showed significant improvements in several areas of brain function. (14)

4. Eating Blueberries Can Protect Your Heart

Oxidative damage is also a contributing factor to the deterioration of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), which is one of the biological processes known to contribute to the development of heart disease.

The antioxidants in blueberries are associated with lower levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol in the blood. (15)

5. An eight-week study found that obese participants eating only a third of a cup of blueberries daily dropped LDL oxidation levels by 27%. (16)

Including about a half-cup of blueberries daily with a meal has also been shown to cut LDL oxidation significantly. (17)

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is another major risk factor for developing heart disease, and blueberries appear to be useful in naturally lowering blood pressure.

When obese patients classified as high risk for heart disease ate about a third of a cup (50 grams) of blueberries daily for eight weeks, drops in blood pressure ranged between 4% and 6%. (18)

A study with post-menopausal women showed similar results. (19)

6. The anthocyanins present in blueberries are believed to be instrumental in cultivating good heart health. Data from a long-term study done with nearly a hundred thousand nurses indicates regularly consuming foods rich in anthocyanins results in lower heart attack rates, to the tune of nearly a third less risk. (20)

While this large, observational study can’t provide absolute proof that eating blueberries or other foods with high anthocyanin content directly caused the improved statistics, scientists believe it’s the most likely explanation.

7. Other Health Benefits of Blueberries

Most fruits are fairly high in sugar content, but blueberries are relatively low. A full cup contains only 15 grams of sugar, similar to what’s in a large orange.

Both blueberry juice and blueberry extract have been shown to have beneficial effects on glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, which make them a naturally anti-diabetic food. (21)

A clinical trial measuring the effects of drinking blueberry smoothies on insulin sensitivity indicated that the 32 obese participants experienced significant improvements. (22)

Since metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are among the most common health issues in the world today, these findings could have a major impact on prevention and treatment for the disorders.

8. While cranberries have a reputation for helping reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections (UTI), a problem many women experience, blueberries are also rich in the same bioactive substances. (23)

These anti-adhesives help prevent E. coli and other harmful bacterium from binding to bladder walls, decreasing the chances of infection.

Researchers believe that the similarity in antioxidant content between the two berries make it likely blueberries can be just as effective in preventing UTIs.

As mentioned above, blueberries are effective in reducing oxidative damage, and appear to be helpful in recovering from muscle fatigue and soreness associated with strenuous exercise.

This hasn’t been tested extensively, but a study with ten female athletes indicated those who ate blueberries enjoyed much shorter recovery times from the inflammation resulting from intensive muscle stress. (24)

The list of potential benefits of eating blueberries is long, including preventing DNA and oxidative damage that can contribute neurological disorders and the development of heart disease and cancer. Making this superfood a regular part of your diet is a delicious way to bump up antioxidant intake content and increase your chances of avoiding chronic diseases.

References:

  1. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2215
  2. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1851/2
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22175691
  4. http://www.pnas.org/content/90/17/7915.short
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10995120
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12475297
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15123782
  8. http://www.intechopen.com/books/new-research-directions-in-dna-repair/dna-damage-dna-repair-and-cancer
  9. http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/8/1800.long
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22733001
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23507228
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19057194
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4192974/
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2850944/
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820045/
  16. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/140/9/1582.long
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22935321
  18. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/140/9/1582.long
  19. http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672%2814%2901633-5/abstract
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23319811
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18066143
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139238/
  23. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199105303242214
  24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14715915
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