By Angela Salazar, RD, CSP, clinical dietitian at CHOC
Everyone loves blueberries! The round little blue fruit ranks only second to the strawberry in popularity. Blueberries are ranked in the U.S. diet as having one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings.
And, we all know that antioxidants are essential for optimal health by helping combat free radicals in the body. So whether you prefer them raw, frozen, in a smoothie or on top of your morning cereal, having blueberries as part of your diet can have a positive impact on your health.
Blueberries are the fruits of a shrub that belong to the heath (Ericaceae) family whose members also include the cranberry and the bilberry. Within this family of fruits there are three different groups of blueberries.
1. Highbush Blueberry- these berries are the most commonly cultivated and are most commonly found in grocery stores for purchase.
2. Lowbush Blueberry- these berries are commonly known as “wild berries,” are smaller in size, and are not usually found in stores.
3. Rabbiteye Blueberry- these berries are native to the Southern U.S. and are less frequently cultivated than the highbush blueberry.
So what’s new and beneficial about the blueberry? After years of research on blueberry antioxidants and their effects on the nervous system and brain health, there is new evidence that blueberries can improve memory. In one study, 12 weeks of daily blueberry consumption was enough to improve cognitive function, including memory.
The antioxidents in blueberries have been positively linked to our cardiovascular system. In studies of blood composition, blueberry intake has been shown to improve blood fat balances, including reduction in total cholesterol, the raising of HDL cholesterol, and the lowering of triglycerides. Blueberries also have been shown to help protect blood components, like LDL cholesterol, from oxygen damage that could lead to eventual clogging of the blood vessels. Further, they can help to reduce blood pressure, too.
Lastly, the retina of the eye is an area of the body that is at risk for oxidative stress. Foods that are high in phytonutrient antioxidants are often investigated for their ability to help protect the retina form oxygen damage, and blueberries are no exception!
Blueberries can provide vital nutrients that help support your body’s needs. They retain their maximun amount of nutrients and their maximum taste when they are fresh and not prepared in a cooked recipe. Here are just a couple ways to enjoy them at their best:
Blueberry Power Smoothie
1 cup fresh/frozen blueberries
2/3 cup fat free milk
½ cup reduced fat firm skim tofu
2 tablespoons raspberry spread
1 (16oz) carton raspberry low fat yogurt
Blend & Serves 4
Blueberry & Granola Parfaits
2 cups vanilla fat –free yogurt
2 cups blueberries
1 cup maple pecan granola
Mix & serve