4 Health Benefits of Blueberries

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on November 28, 2016Written by Erin Moore on November 28, 2016

Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet is full of superstar foods. But few come close to the nutritional power of blueberries. They’re one of the top antioxidant-rich foods. In fact, they score above almost every other fruit and vegetable in existence.

Also known as Vaccinium corymbosum, blueberries come from shrubs native to North America. While all varieties are healthy, some provide extra health benefits. For example, the lowbush wild blueberries of Maine, Atlantic Canada, and Quebec contain more antioxidants and may even promote gut health.

Here are four health benefits you’ll enjoy from including these tiny yet hearty berries into your diet.

1. Packed with antioxidants

blueberries

The blueberry’s main claim to fame is its high antioxidant level. Antioxidants are natural substances thought to ward off disease and infection by preventing or delaying cell damage in the body.

Blueberries have shown higher levels of antioxidants than other foods such as nuts and dark chocolate, and other berries such as strawberries and blackberries. They consistently test high in type of flavonoid called in anthocyanidins. These plant pigments are purported to have a variety of health benefits, but more research is needed to confirm these claims.

The authors of a 2012 study suggested that blueberries could be used medicinally as a “functional food of benefit to human health” because of their very strong antioxidant components. The vibrant blue skin of the blueberry may hold the majority of its antioxidants.

2. Heart protection

Several studies suggest blueberries provide cardiovascular support. A 2015 study showed significant decreases in blood pressure and pulse levels for postmenopausal women with hypertension who ate freeze-dried blueberry powder every day for eight weeks.

The anthocyanidins in blueberries may also be key players in heart attack prevention. Eating them may even protect obese men and women with metabolic syndrome from having symptoms, as well as heart problems.

They have also shown some ability to reduce DNA damage in men at risk for cardiovascular disease.

3. Brain power boost

Blueberries are the smart choice! Women ages 70 and older who ate blueberries over the course of 32 years had slower rates of cognitive decline. Blueberry supplements may also improve memory in older adults with early signs of dementia. A remarkable side effect of blueberry consumption in this study was a reduction in depression symptoms and blood sugar levels.

Other preliminary research suggests that blueberries may ease post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms such as anxiety.

4. Improved digestion and gut health

Blueberries may have powerful healing effects for the gut. In a 2013 study, adding lowbush wild blueberries to the diet of rats resulted in an almost eight-fold increase in the amount of good gut and colon bacteria. While the research was done in an animal model, it suggests that comparable effects could occur in humans.

Recent research in the journal Molecules supports this. Eighteen healthy men who consumed wild blueberries for 30 days had significant positive changes in their gut microbiota. The researchers concluded that antioxidants from blueberries are “absorbed and extensively metabolized.” This is great news, as it shows that our bodies can assimilate their nutrients easily.

Furthermore, eating blueberries after a meal might help balance blood sugar and offer protection against oxidative stress, or wear and tear on the body.

Nutrition facts

One-half cup of blueberries contains roughly:

  • 47 calories
  • 2.7 grams of dietary fiber
  • 0.24 milligrams of iron
  • 7.2 milligrams of vitamin C
  • no fat or cholesterol

Recipes

blueberry popsicles

Blueberries are nutrient-dense, but have very few calories and practically no protein. For this reason, consider pairing your blueberries with high-protein foods or drinks. Try them sprinkled over Greek yogurt, mixed into some steel-cut oats with cinnamon, or throw a handful into your morning smoothie. You can also cook and bake with them. Here are some delicious recipes to get you started:

Takeaway

There are a lot of reasons to add the versatile, nutritious blueberry to your diet. Regardless of where you live, you can stock up on frozen berries at the store any time of year. When fresh, blueberries should be firm and deep blue in color.

Eating blueberries and other fruits is also a great way to cope with sugar cravings. Their natural sweetness can provide a satisfying replacement to processed treats.

Read more: 10 tips to control your junk food cravings »

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