Consider the blueberry. Humble denizen of fruit salads, crumbles, dessert tarts and pies, this pea-sized delectable has been a familiar ingredient in recipes and meals since Native Americans used them to help the early settlers survive their first winter. What these ancient cultures understood that modern science is only now coming to realize is the powerful healing properties concentrated within this amazing, indigo-hued pearl of nutrition.
Known to be possessed of fiber, vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, selenium, zinc, phosphorus and manganese – blueberries also contain carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin) and flavonoids (rutin, resveratrol, quercetin). As if these healthy ingredients were not enough, blueberries are bursting with high levels of phytonutrients known as anthocyanins and pterostilbenes. This potent stew of nutrients imparts antioxidant powers greater than any other single food, making it the superhero of disease prevention. Here is a list of just a few of the health benefits that can be derived from including a handful of this tasty treat in your daily diet:
- Brain Health: By protecting brains cells from the oxidative effects of free radicals, the antioxidants in blueberries help prevent and minimize age-related memory loss. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect which protects neurons from damage, thereby helping improve motor control and cognition. Most impressively, blueberries have been shown to reduce the formation and enhance the clearance of amyloid protein, the abnormal protein seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
- Heart Health: In a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that one serving of blueberries per week can significantly reduce the risk of hypertension. Other recent studies demonstrate numerous heart benefits from eating blueberries including the reduced risk of heart attack and heart failure, reduction of atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries, and improved blood lipid profiles.
- Reduced Cancer Risk: The phytonutrients in blueberries can actually induce cancer cells to commit suicide (apoptosis), and can prevent cancer cells from proliferating as well. Use of blueberries has been shown to be helpful in treating numerous types of cancer, including pancreatic, oral, breast, colon and prostate.
- Anti-Aging Effect: By preventing inflammation and neutralizing free radicals the antioxidants in blueberries help to prevent DNA damage and inhibit collagen breakdown. Other blueberry nutrients help to repair and create new collagen – the primary connective tissue support of skin. More blueberries = less wrinkles. Cool.
- Vision Health: Blueberries are loaded with the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients necessary to support healthy eyes and to prevent age-related eye problems, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, myopia and infections.
- Liver Health: A University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center study showed that the nutrients in blueberries resulted in a reduction in liver size, indicating improved liver function. Among the benefits of a high-functioning liver are improved blood lipid profile, improved blood glucose management, reduced belly fat, and improved insulin sensitivity – all good things.
- >Weight Loss: Blueberries are a good source of fiber, which makes them a filling, satisfying food that promotes proper colon function. Along with the benefits of improved liver function listed above, blueberries make a valuable addition to any weight-management plan.
- Urinary Tract Health: Like its berry cousins (cranberries, elderberries, etc.), the blueberry has natural antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties that suppress infections. They also inhibit the ability of bacteria like E. coli to stick to the walls of the urinary tract, making it easy for the body to flush them out.
In western society we continue to search for the silver bullet, the panacea, the one true way to perfect health all the while not seeing it around us. It is food. Pure, whole food delivered by nature, pre-packaged with everything we need for health, vitality and longevity. The blueberry – this most unassuming of foods – stands as a shining example of nature’s healing power.