The Health Benefits of Blueberries (It’s Blueberry Month!)
Dr. Ashley Margeson
August is blueberry month, and with them in high demand at every available u-pick (we spent last Wednesday at Blueberry Acres – thanks for a great time y’all!) I figured it was high time that I talked about the health benefits of these little flavour morsels.
These berries, often labelled as a superfood, also happen to be very tasty and convenient! The kids will eat them by the bucketful, and we know there are proven health benefits too! Those health benefits are often linked to something known as ANTIOXIDANTS. And while we might hear every superfood touting the benefits of antioxidants, none are moreso present than in the humble blueberry.
What Is An Antioxidant?
Antioxidants protect your body from free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage your cells and contribute to aging and diseases, like cancer. The more inflammation you have in the body, the more free radicals are present – and the more free radicals are present, the more likely you are to suffer from poor Quality of Life standards. Antioxidants are the substances that can render your free radicals neutral. But where do these antioxidants come from? You guessed it, a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables.
What is an Anthocyanin?
When it comes to antioxidants, flavonoids are a particular type of antioxidants that have been very well studied in the literature. Specifically, anthocyanin’s are of particular importance. Why? They are the substance responsible for the blueberry’s characteristic blue colour. Along with purple corn, pomegranates and beets, blueberries rank as the king of the hill (or maybe of the blueberry bush) for their health benefits (like in this study, and this one here!). Studies have even shown that increasing the consumption of plant foods such as blueberries decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart health and overall mortality; not to mention the positive benefits of healthy hair and skin, increased energy and maintaining a healthy weight.
And to top it off, the skins of the berries are really where the nutrient content lies.
Think about it. When you cut open a blueberry, the stain that you get on your fingers comes from the area closest to the skin. When it comes to anthocyanin content, the darker (or more precisely the richer) the colour the better. The skins of fruits like blueberries tend to have the highest concentration of anthocyanin because the concentration is responsible for the colour. The more pigment, the more colour… which means the more antioxidants.
Does the packaging matter?
In the nutrition world, there is generally no substitute for whole foods and fresh foods. In many instances, frozen foods are just as beneficial… except when we talk about anthocyanins. See, one study showed that over the course of six months in storage, the anthocyanin component of blueberries degraded by 59%. Heating blueberries (without added sugar like with jams and jellies) doesn’t actually seem to affect the anthocyanin content as long as the pH stays stable. What these research papers show is that in order to maintain the colour and maintain the anthocyanin content of a product, the pH must be low. For the general public, that means the more bitter and acidity tasting – the better!
Are Anthocyanin’s The Only Benefit To Blueberries?
Not at all!
As well as anthocyanin (and a wide range of vitamins and minerals), blueberries contain a diverse range of phenolic compounds such as quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and chlorogenic acid. These contribute to the antioxidant capacity of blueberries.
This quantity of bioactive compounds place blueberries incredibly high on something known as the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). This index rates foods based on their vitamin and mineral content, phytochemical composition, and antioxidant capacity. Foods with the most nutrients per calorie have the highest rankings, and blueberries are placed among the top fruits and vegetables for nutrient density, with an ANDI score of 132.
Why Am I Talking About Blueberries?
My Uncle asked me to look into these wonderful berries for his company… Superfruit Puree. And I’m not going to lie, I’m impressed that their product actually matches the research out there. The benefit that I’m loving? It’s not a juice… it’s a puree, and it actually contains the skins of the berries, which you and I both now know is where these antioxidant benefits lie. I’ve added an ounce of the product to my kids water, my water (because I’m AWFUL at getting it in), made popsicles with it, and just loaded it on on top of the actual berry themselves… as well as cooked with it a million times over.
Would I choose the product in place of the actual berry? Probably not… but I’m old school that way. But it definitely comes in second and is a product I can stand behind at face value (and research valued).
When it comes to good health (and good nutrition) – consistency is key. Doing something for a week and then going back to eating out and crappy food isn’t going to make you live longer; but adding health options to your routine every day is only going to be of benefit. So for the days that I’m on the run and really need to top up my nutrients… this is going to be right next to my greens powder (and that’s a different blog post!)
*this blog post was sponsored in part by Superfruit Puree; all opinions expressed are mine and mine alone. Based off the research I’ve looked at and my own experiences with the product, I’m very proud to be working with this Atlantic Canadian company (and family company as well!)