Here's a quick quiz: What do the 4th of July, the iPhone, and Blueberries have in common? Before we share the answer (no peeking!), let's learn about the history and health benefits of the small but mighty Blueberry.
The Rise of the Modern Blueberry
The Blueberry has an intriguing history. As far back as the 17th century, Native Americans gathered the wild berries to use as food, medicine, and dye. They taught European settlers how to spot, pick, and preserve Blueberries, and brought Blueberries to the first Thanksgiving Feast at Plymouth in 1621.1
Once a wild plant native to the U.S., Blueberries are now farmed in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South America, Japan, and New Zealand.1 In the early 1900s, Dr. Frederick Coville and Elizabeth White selected the best-tasting and most easily-harvested wild Blueberries and created the Highbush variety that we eat today.1,2
While you could tour the world eating your fill of Blueberries on almost every continent, you don’t have to go to exotic locales to get the incredible health benefits of this humble berry. The Blueberries sold in your local market are bursting with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
The next time you pick some up, consider the punch these little guys pack:
Blueberry Benefit #1 - Antioxidants
Antioxidants can help prevent or delay free radical cell damage, which occurs when the body burns calories or is exposed to harmful substances such as cigarette smoke, UV rays, or polluted air.3
Antioxidant levels in foods are measured using an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score.4 Blueberries have an ORAC score ranging from 4,700 for farmed Blueberries to 9,600 for wild Blueberries.5 By comparison, carrots have a 700 ORAC score, and tomatoes have an ORAC score of 387.5
Blueberry Benefit #2 - High Vitamin Content
In addition to their antioxidant properties, Blueberries are loaded with vitamins, including vitamins C and K. In fact, just one cup of Blueberries supplies about a quarter7 of a day’s requirement of vitamin C, and more than a third6 of your daily vitamin K requirement.
According to an article written by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., and Dr. Brian Becker, M.D., “Vitamin C helps to repair and regenerate tissues, protect against heart disease, aid in the absorption of iron, prevent scurvy, and decrease total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Research indicates that vitamin C may help protect against a variety of cancers by combating free radicals, and helping neutralize the effects of nitrites (preservatives found in some packaged foods that may raise the risk of certain forms of cancer). Supplemental vitamin C may also lessen the duration and symptoms of a common cold, help delay or prevent cataracts, and support healthy immune function.”10
Vitamin K has been shown to help prevent heart disease and build strong bones, and can help your blood to clot after an injury. People who do not get enough vitamin K are at risk for problems with excessive bleeding.7
These versatile, vitamin-rich berries are delicious in baked goods, smoothies, shakes, or just by themselves. Consider making eating a cup of blueberries a regular part of your diet to help boost your vitamin C and K levels - your body will thank you!
Blueberry Benefit #3 - Minerals
Blueberries have many minerals that the body can use, particularly Manganese, a trace mineral that helps with the formation of tendons, bone, blood clotting factors, and hormones for reproduction. Manganese also helps the body to absorb Calcium and digest fats and sugars, and it helps the brain function better.8 Manganese deficiency can contribute to problems with fertility, low bone density, and seizures. But be careful - it is possible to ingest too much Manganese; high levels of Manganese have been found in people who have brain diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease.8 Talk to your health provider about your Manganese levels, and consider adding wild Blueberries to your diet; they have about 200% of your daily recommended amount of Manganese.
Blueberry Benefit #4 - Phytonutrients
We’re not done sharing all of the health benefits of the mighty Blueberry! In addition to antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, Blueberries are also full of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are chemicals that plants use to protect themselves. These chemicals are also beneficial to humans.
The main phytonutrients found in Blueberries are anthocyanins, flavonoids, resveratrol, and ellagic acid. Anthocyanins are responsible for giving Blueberries their blue color, and have been shown to help with inflammation and heart health.9 Flavonoids have been shown to have antioxidant benefits and to help lower cholesterol. Resveratrol, which is also found in red wine, has been shown to promote heart health, act as an antioxidant, and extend people’s lives. (9) Ellagic acid promotes good health by preventing harmful mutations in living cells.9 Think of all the great nutrients your body is getting each time you munch on a handful of Blueberries!
Growing Your Own Blueberries
Although you could pick up a batch of Blueberries at almost any grocery store, why not try planting your own Blueberry bush? They are hearty plants and have been known to survive cold winters. Here are some tips from the Almanac on how to grow your own Blueberries:
Plant in acidic soil with a ph of 4 to 5.
Plant in soil that drains well, but still retains moisture.
Plant early in the Spring.
Keep bushes in a row about 5 feet apart.
Add fertilizer one month after planting, not during the planting process.
Add 2-4 inches of mulch; you may use woodchip, sawdust, or pine needles.
Give 1-2 inches of water a week.
Pinch flowers the first year of being planted.
Start pruning after 4 years in late winter or early Spring.
Cut out dead or ugly shoots.
Fruiting season is late may to mid August.
Pick only the berries that fall off the branch easily after they first turn blue.
Freeze fruits that are not being used.
The Answer Is…
You’ve read about how Blueberries are a tasty way to get more antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients into your diet; have you also found the answer to the question we posed at the beginning of the article? The answer is: they are all as American as Apple - er, Blueberry - pie!
Enjoy these American classics this summer!
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