Seasonal Produce Spotlight: The Health Benefits of Blueberries

Nutrition Information and How to Store and Eat Them.

To say that blueberries are one of my favorite foods would be an understatement! They may come in small packages, but they’re full of flavor, nutrients and many health benefits. That’s why they’re by far among the things I look forward to most about summer. So, what makes these berries so special? We’re taking a look at the many health benefits of blueberries as well as why they’re so good for us, and how to buy, store and eat them. 

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

What Are Blueberries?

According to the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, blueberries are part of the Ericaceae family, also known as heaths1. Their cousins include rhododendron and azaleas, and they grow on bushes2. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that they weren’t cultivated before the 20th century. Before then, you could only find them in the wild2

Blueberries are a summer fruit that are worth their weight in gold as far as I’m concerned. If you grow them or have ever gone to a “pick-your-own” farm, you know what I’m talking about. Picking these tiny berries in the hot summer sun will either put you in a Zen place or have you questioning your sanity. The good news is though that the work is well worth it once you start popping them in your mouth. 

Nutrients in Blueberries

When it comes to micronutrients, blueberries rank right up toward the top of the list of superfoods. High amounts of fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants, potassium and folate3 are just a few of the reasons why they earn honors when it comes to the healthiest foods. 

Health Benefits of Blueberries

If you’re looking for the health benefits of blueberries, the things that you’ll probably hear the most about are the antioxidants. They and other berries are packed with these health-boosting substances5, 6. According to the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health antioxidants include vitamins C and E, selenium, and carotenoids and may “prevent or delay some types of cell damage7.” Research shows that this cell damage is considered to be a major contributor to degenerative diseases associated with aging. These include cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune system decline, brain dysfunction, and even cataracts6,8

Eating blueberries in regular, moderate amounts is being looked at as a way to possibly prevent and fight these diseases and others and to boost overall health9, 10. This means, at least according to one study, three or more servings of a half a cup of blueberries every week11. Less than that and the benefits may not be as great. 

How to Buy, Store and Eat Blueberries

I mentioned picking blueberries before. If you’ve never done this, I would highly recommend trying it at least once. The secret is going early in the morning, before the sun is bearing down on you and the temperature is too hot. If you take a young child or a child with a short attention span, be sure and go with realistic expectations. Picking blueberries is fun, but it can get tedious. 

Whether you’re picking them yourself or buying them in the grocery store, you’ll want to look for firm and plump deep blue berries. You don’t want them to be soft and squishy or still purple-ish in color. Those will be too tart. 

Storing Blueberries 

Fresh blueberries should be stored in the refrigerator and will usually last up to 10 days. If you haven’t picked them yourself, you’ll want to sort through them fairly quickly to make sure that none have mold on them. Mold spreads quickly so this could ruin the entire bunch if you don’t find it before storing them. 

You’ll also want to wait to rinse them until just before you’re going to eat them to keep as much moisture out as possible. I store mine in a plastic baggie with a paper towel to absorb any extra moisture that might be on them. If they come in a container, you can also just store them in there, but you’ll still want to put a paper towel in the bottom. If you’re not going to use all of the blueberries immediately, freezing them is supposed to be very easy. I wouldn’t know first-hand about that because I never have any fresh blueberries that we don’t eat. If you do though, the Old Farmer’s Almanac explains how to freeze them here

How to Eat Blueberries 

My favorite ways to eat fresh blueberries include having a cup by themselves, in muffins or in a cobbler. For my daily green smoothies, frozen blueberries are usually a key ingredient. 

Cost of Blueberries

Blueberries are not included on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List but I still try to buy organic berries of any type. Blueberries don’t carry as many pesticides as some of the others, but if they’re not organic or verified as being chemical-free by the grower, they’ve probably been sprayed in some way. Buying organic raises the cost for what is already a usually fairly pricey fruit to eat, which is why I only buy fresh blueberries during the summer – when they’re in season and the price is lowest. Otherwise, I buy them frozen. The health benefits are pretty much the same either way. 

Bottom Line on the Health Benefits of Blueberries

The bottom line on the health benefits of blueberries is that we should all be eating them – especially as we age. I didn’t truly need an excuse to eat more blueberries, but by all means, if the research shows they’re that good for me, who am I to argue?

Sources

  1. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. The Highbush Blueberry.http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2012/johnson_jor3/classification.htm
  2. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Growing Blueberries. https://www.almanac.com/plant/blueberries#
  3. Sustainable Food Center. 3 Power Foods That Will Change the Way You Eat During Pregnancy. https://sustainablefoodcenter.org/latest/cooking/3-power-foods-that-will-change-the-way-you-eat-during-pregnancy
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171711/nutrients
  5. Silva S, Costa EM, Veiga M, Morais RM, Calhau C, Pintado M. Health promoting properties of blueberries: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020;60(2):181-200. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2018.1518895. Epub 2018 Oct 29. PMID: 30373383. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30373383/
  6. Ames BN, Shigenaga MK, Hagen TM. Oxidants, antioxidants, and the degenerative diseases of aging. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1993;90(17):7915-7922. doi:10.1073/pnas.90.17.7915. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC47258/
  7. National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Antioxidants: In Depth. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth
  8. Prior RL, Cao G, Prior RL, Cao G. Analysis of botanicals and dietary supplements for antioxidant capacity: a review. J AOAC Int. 2000 Jul-Aug;83(4):950-6. PMID: 10995120. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10995120/
  9. Kalt W, Cassidy A, Howard LR, Krikorian R, Stull AJ, Tremblay F, Zamora-Ros R. Recent Research on the Health Benefits of Blueberries and Their Anthocyanins. Adv Nutr. 2020 Mar 1;11(2):224-236. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmz065. PMID: 31329250; PMCID: PMC7442370. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31329250/
  10. Wolfe KL, Kang X, He X, Dong M, Zhang Q, Liu RH. Cellular antioxidant activity of common fruits. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Sep 24;56(18):8418-26. doi: 10.1021/jf801381y. Epub 2008 Aug 30. PMID: 18759450. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18759450/
  11. Harvard Medical School. Eat Blueberries and Strawberries Three Times Per Week. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/eat-blueberries-and-strawberries-three-times-per-week

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