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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 04/12/2018

Health Benefits of Blueberries

Blueberries are one of the few fruits native to North America, and are both cultivated and grown wild. Wild blueberries are found in Maine and Eastern Canada, while cultivated varieties are grown in Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, California and the Northwest. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” because of the blossom ends of each berry.

One half cup of blueberries has 42 calories, 11 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 0 grams fat, and 2 grams dietary fiber. Blueberries are rich in vitamin K, vitamin C and manganese. They offer high levels of phenolic compounds, particularly anthocyanins (which are responsible for their color), flavonoids, phenolic acids, and stilbenes. Wild blueberries have more antioxidant capacity than a serving of cranberries, strawberries, or plums.  Phenolic content and antioxidant power vary among species and cultivars, but all are rich sources of phenolic compounds.

Cardiovascular Health
Blueberries may decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and inhibiting oxidation of LDL cholesterol. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, eating three servings of blueberries per week (one serving = half cup) appears to reduce the risk of heart attack in women by 33 percent.

Insulin Resistance
There is some evidence that daily consumption of blueberries may improve insulin sensitivity, but more studies are needed to confirm these results and the mechanism involved.

Cancer Prevention
Blueberries’ phytochemical composition and antioxidant capacity support their role in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as other processes that may contribute to the development of cancer. Further clinical research is needed to establish the link between blueberry consumption and reduced incidence of various types of cancer.

Brain Health
Blueberries may play a role in brain health, delaying age-related decline. They may help improve brain function, slowing the loss of cognitive function and decreasing depression in the elderly.  Blueberries may also improve memory in older adults with early memory decline, as shown in a study where participants had blueberry juice every day for 12 weeks. However, since the study was performed in a small population, more studies are needed to confirm these results.

Although more research needs to be done to confirm the mechanism by which blueberries can help in specific health conditions, the health benefits of including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with high concentration of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects are well known.

How to choose blueberries:

  • Select firm, dry, plump and smooth-skinned fresh berries with dusty blue color. 
  • Avoid soft, shriveled, or watery berries, or those with any sign of mold. 
  • Frozen blueberries are also high in nutrients and antioxidant phyto-components. 

How to store blueberries:

  • Refrigerate fresh blueberries either in the original container or in a covered bowl.
  • Rinse just before eating or using in recipes.
  • To help blueberries ripen, place them in a bag with an apple.

How to add blueberries into your diet:

  • Add to yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, or smoothies.
  • Berries are great in green salads.
  • Add to muffins, pancakes, and fruit crumbles or crisp desserts.
     

Recipe of the Week: Blueberry Buttermilk Bran Muffins
Ingredients

1 ½ c oat bran (gluten-free if necessary)
⅓ c plain nonfat Greek yogurt
⅓ c low-fat buttermilk (to make your own buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a ⅓-cup measuring cup, and fill the remaining space with any milk of your choice).
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 c whole wheat or gluten-free* flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp coconut oil or unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 large egg, room temperature
¼ c honey
¼ c molasses
1 ½ c frozen blueberries

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly coat 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, stir together the oat bran, yogurt, buttermilk, and vanilla.
Reserve 1 tablespoon of flour. Whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl. In a third bowl, whisk together the coconut oil or butter and egg. Stir in the honey and molasses. Mix in the bran mixture. Add in the flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. Toss the frozen blueberries with the remaining 1 tablespoon of flour; then gently fold into the batter.
Divide the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake at 350°F for 24-26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before carefully turning out onto a wire rack. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Yields 12 muffins.

*For the gluten-free flour blend: ½ cup (60g) millet flour, ¼ cup (30g) tapioca flour, ¼ cup (30g) brown rice flour, and ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum. Most store-bought blends should also work, as long as they are measured like this.

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