Folks who are convinced that you have to sacrifice taste to eat healthy—or for something to be considered a health food it has to taste like sawdust—are really missing out. Because, the truth is, some of the healthiest foods out there also happen to be the tastiest.
Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take blueberries, for example.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t find the taste of a fresh blueberry delightful. The crowd-pleasing fruit is a favorite among kids and adults alike. And it just so happens blueberries are also incredibly good for you.
We’ll touch on a few of the many known health benefits of blueberries in just a moment, but first let’s take a look at the newest one that’s been added to the tiny berry’s resume. If you’re a senior you might want to add blueberries to your shopping list because, according to researchers at the University of Exeter, the berries can help improve your brain function.
When a group of healthy seniors drank a 30 milliliters (a bit over two tablespoons) of blueberry extract daily for 12 weeks, blood flow improved, as did cognitive function.1 In fact, after taking the extract, the researchers were able to measure increased activation in the senior’s brains while they took cognitive tests.
Blueberries boost working memory
According to the scientists, the blueberries increased the volunteer’s working memory. And that’s big news, because your working memory is the type of short term memory that allows you to do everything from remembering what to pick up at the grocery store to reading an article, like this one, from start to finish.
Blueberry juices are becoming easier to find these days, and you can find blueberry powders online and in some health foods stores as well. If you decide to use a juice or powder just be sure you’re getting pure juice, not a mix, and that it doesn’t have any added sugars.
But we recommend you go for the whole fruit whenever possible since even pure juice is high in sugar, and you miss out on the fiber of the fruit. To get around the same amount of blueberry power as the study volunteers you’ll need to eat a bit more than eight ounces, or a cup, of the berries. Toss them into yogurt, steel cut oatmeal, cottage cheese or salads. Or simply eat them like I do, by the handful as a snack.
But brain benefits aren’t the only reason to eat blueberries. There are a bunch of other reasons to make them a part of your routine.
Brimming with heart-friendly polyphenols and flavonoids such as anthocyanins, experts say blueberries may be able to help us keep our blood pressure in the healthy zone.2,3
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition volunteers who reported eating the most foods rich in anthocyanins had a healthy eight percent lower risk of hypertension. And the folks who ate the most blueberries specifically, had an impressive 10 percent lower risk of high blood pressure.4
But blueberries don’t just work to help prevent high blood pressure, they could also help bring your numbers down. A group of ladies who ate a daily dose of blueberries for two months had significant drops in both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure, according to a study.
Which means that folks who have mildly elevated numbers might even be able to bring them back down to normal simply by munching on delicious berries.5
But helping to manage your blood pressure isn’t the only way blueberries can support your heart health. According to experts purple or blue hued foods—which take their color from the anthocyanins I mentioned earlier—can help send your HDL, or “good cholesterol,” soaring.6
This is important, because while you hear a lot about lowering cholesterol from the mainstream, high HDL sends your risk for heart disease plummeting and can help protect you against heart attack and stroke.7,8 Foods high in anthocyanins, such as blueberries, can raise your HDL levels up to an impressive 19 percent, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.9
At the same time, blueberries are brimming with antioxidants that are linked to lower levels of oxidized LDL, which can contribute to heart disease.10,11
Despite tasting deliciously sweet, blueberries are fairly low in sugar to begin with. But it turns out their flavonoid content may actually help you ward off diabetes.
Experts say the anthocyanins in blueberries can help us with insulin sensitivity and the processing of blood sugar.12,13,14 In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition 67 percent of the folks receiving a blueberry smoothie had significant improvements in their insulin sensitivity.15 Which means, blueberries could lower your risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
The truth is blueberries have far too many benefits to cover in a single article. In fact fighting cancer, urinary tract infections and weight gain will have to wait for another time. But in the meantime don’t you wait to make these delicious berries a regular part of your diet.
1. “Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults,” J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14; 58(7): 3996–4000
2. “Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health,” Nutr Rev. 2010 Mar; 68(3): 168–177
3. “Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol,” Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):323-31
4. “Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults,” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):338-47
5. “Daily blueberry consumption improves blood pressure and arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women with pre- and stage 1-hypertension: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial,” J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Mar;115(3):369-77
6. “Purified anthocyanin supplementation reduces dyslipidemia, enhances antioxidant capacity, and prevents insulin resistance in diabetic patients, J Nutr. 2015 Apr;145(4):742-8
7. “Cardiovascular disease risk reduction by raising HDL cholesterol – current therapies and future opportunities,” Br J Pharmacol. 2012 Nov; 167(6): 1177–1194
8. “Health benefits of high-density lipoproteins in preventing cardiovascular diseases,” J Clin Lipidol. 2012 Nov-Dec;6(6):524-33
9. “Anthocyanin supplementation improves serum LDL- and HDL-cholesterol concentrations associated with the inhibition of cholesteryl ester transfer protein in dyslipidemic subjects,” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Sep;90(3):485-92
10. “Polyphenols: Benefits to the Cardiovascular System in Health and in Aging,” Nutrients. 2013 Oct; 5(10): 3779–3827
11. “Blueberries Decrease Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Obese Men and Women with Metabolic Syndrome,” J. Nutr. September 1, 2010, vol. 140 no. 9 1582-1587
12. “Fermented Canadian lowbush blueberry juice stimulates glucose uptake and AMP-activated protein kinase in insulin-sensitive cultured muscle cells and adipocytes,” Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2007 Sep;85(9):956-65
13. “Effect of Blueberin on fasting glucose, C-reactive protein and plasma aminotransferases, in female volunteers with diabetes type 2: double-blind, placebo controlled clinical study,” Georgian Med News. 2006 Dec;(141):66-72
14. “Anti-diabetic properties of the Canadian lowbush blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium Ait,” Phytomedicine, Volume 13, Issues 9–10, 24 November 2006, Pages 612–623
15. “Bioactives in Blueberries Improve Insulin Sensitivity in Obese, Insulin-Resistant Men and Women,” J Nutr. 2010 Oct; 140(10): 1764–1768
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