Botanical name: Vaccinium corybosum
Blueberries are distinctive in so many ways. Not only are they the only blue food, but there are also more blueberry species native to North America – the main ones being highbush, lowbush, and rabbiteye – than any other continent. They've been abundant on the North American continent since the dawn of time, and were a staple in the Native American diet. When the first colonists arrived, they were shown how to gather blueberries, dry them in the sun, store them for winter, and perpetuate their growth.
Cultivated blueberries are usually mild and sweet, while wild varieties are more tart. However, both earn blue ribbons for the nutritional benefits they provide.
The best way to freeze blueberries is to first spread them on a cookie sheet, unwashed and in a single layer, freeze them, and then place in a freezer bag. This keeps them from clumping together and absorbing unwanted moisture. However, blueberries lose some of their nutritional value and flavor when frozen. Use these for recipes that call for cooked blueberries. Whether fresh or frozen, the pale, powder-like coating on blueberries, called "bloom," should remain on the berries until just before eating.
On the most basic levels, vitamins K and C provide the highest vitamins in blueberries, with manganese being the most prominent mineral.
The remaining nutrients list in blueberries is fairly balanced between vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and copper. But perhaps it's the phytonutrients in blueberries that provide the most important health benefits.
Anthocyanins, which give blueberries their vivid color, also are known for their natural ability to neutralize free radicals. Other ingredients of consequence include hydroxycinnamic acids (such as caffeic, ferulic, and coumaric acid), hydroxybenzoic acids (gallic and procatechuic acid), and flavonols (such as kaempferol, quercetin, and myricetin), as well as pterostilbene and resveratrol.
All unique to themselves and in combination with other compounds, each has antioxidant and inflammation-fighting properties – even protecting the retina of the eye, for example – making blueberries such a nutritious food.
The negative effect blueberries can have on cancer cells is another area that makes blueberries one of the world's best foods, particularly in the fight against breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and cancers of the small intestine. Other health benefits of blueberries include cardio support, raising HDL ("good") cholesterol and lowering LDL. Blueberries are also related to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well assisting in the prevention of macular degeneration and urinary tract infections.
Decreases in cognitive and motor function being two of the more visible signs of aging, scientists researched blueberries for their antioxidant activity, looking for delayed and even reversed signs of age-related cognitive decline, The studies concluded that blueberries may indeed protect against age-related deficits in memory and motor function, possibly due to the fruit's polyphenolic compounds having the ability to lower oxidative stress and inflammation, and change neuronal signaling. 1
An anthocyanin extract from blueberries was used in other studies investigating breast cancer-fighting potential, resulting in significant reduction in cancer cell invasion ability and cell proliferation. 2
Place all ingredients into a blender. Mix until smooth.
Blueberries were significant in the lives of Native Americans, who referred to them as "star berries" because of the five-point star shape on blueberry blossoms. They were revered as a gift from the Great Spirit to help feed their children during famine, and for their effectiveness as a tonic for coughs and respiratory problems.
Eaten straight from the bush or baked into a favorite recipe, blueberries rank Number One in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the USDA Human Nutrition Center. One reason is because of the anthocyanin presence, which not only brings out the vivid pigment in blueberries, but also has the ability to neutralize harmful free radicals that can lead to cancer and other serious diseases. This also is true of the vitamin C content, which helps fight infection.
Other amazing advantages of eating blueberries include bone-healthy vitamin K, heart-healthy fiber, and numerous compounds that together provide decreased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and cancers of the small intestine, as well as healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. So go ahead – eat them by the handful, knowing they're naturally good – and good for you.
Sources and References: