In summertime, we can all enjoy a food that’s plentiful, healthy and just plain delicious—blueberries. While blueberries can probably sell themselves on taste alone, they have a number of other benefits that make them deserving of their place as a year-round staple, whether fresh or frozen.
Blueberries fight oxidative stress
Blueberries are an excellent source of antioxidants. We need antioxidants in our diet because normal metabolism causes reactive oxygen species, also called free radicals, to be produced by our cells. This normal increase in reactive oxygen species is called oxidative stress. If it continues for too long, oxidative stress damages cells. Just as a fire is put out by water, oxidative stress is quenched by antioxidants.
Blueberries protect your heart and blood vessels
Like other purple and red fruits, blueberries are rich in antioxidants called proanthocyanidins. These heart-healthy pigments are also found in red wine, tea and cocoa. They protect the heart and blood vessels from the damage that occurs naturally as part of aging, according to a 2014 research review in Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. One cup of berries also contains one quarter of your recommended daily requirement of vitamin C, another essential dietary antioxidant, and one third of your daily vitamin K, which protects blood vessels.
A 2015 research trial in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics evaluated the effects of blueberries on aging blood vessels. In this small study, a group of 24 pre-hypertensive, postmenopausal women consumed one and a half tablespoons of freeze-dried blueberry powder, or the equivalent of a cup of fresh berries. After eight weeks, the women taking the blueberry powder had a 5 to 6 percent drop in their blood pressure, compared to women who didn’t take the powder. The women who took the powder also had higher levels of nitric oxide in their blood, an indicator of good blood vessel health. The blueberry powder appeared to partly reverse the artery stiffening that occurs in women after menopause.
Blueberries are blood sugar and diet-friendly
Blueberries have a low glycemic index, meaning they won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as other fruits. This is mostly due to their fiber content—one cup of blueberries has four grams of fiber, which slows the digestion of sugars and prevents them from entering the bloodstream quickly. Berries are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without having to endure a sugar crash later.
Blueberries have buddies
Don’t forget about blueberries’ equally healthy relatives: cranberries, huckleberries, bilberries and lingonberries. Wild berries are plentiful in many forested areas and have an even higher antioxidant content than cultivated types. While some antioxidant content is lost in cooking, freezing berries is a great way to preserve their nutritional punch—and enjoy them year-round.
Natalie Walsh, N.D. (drwalshnd.com), is a resident physician at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, Washington, and an instructor at Bastyr University. She has a doctorate in naturopathic medicine and a master’s degree in applied ecology.