Blueberries provide a wide array of health benefits.
It’s well known that oranges are a great source of vitamin C and bananas have plenty of potassium. But did you know that eating blueberries can help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower your blood pressure, fight cancer and promote digestive health? “Blueberries are a great choice because there’s so much benefit that comes from eating such a small amount,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic Wellness. “Putting a handful on your cereal may not seem like such a big deal, but the benefits to your body are a big deal. Blueberries are small but mighty.” Blueberries are available year-round and are easy to incorporate into a healthy eating regimen by putting them in cereal, on top of plain yogurt, in oatmeal, in baked goods or just eating them plain. “They’re sweet. They’re a much better option than grabbing something that has added sugar,” she says.
1. Cancer prevention.
For being such a small fruit, blueberries can be a strong ally in the fight against cancer, says Elyse Krawtz, a registered dietitian with Northside Hospital in Atlanta. “Blueberries contain high levels of powerful compounds called phytochemicals,” Krawtz says. “Phytochemicals decrease the risk of several cancers by protecting your cells from chronic inflammation.” Phytochemicals occur naturally in plants and give them their color, aroma and flavor. They fight cancer by stimulating the immune system and reducing the kind of inflammation that makes cancer growth more likely, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Phytochemicals can also slow the growth rate of cancer cells and trigger damaged cells to destroy themselves before they can reproduce. Kailey Proctor, an oncology dietitian at the Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, California, agrees. In particular, the fiber in blueberries helps protect your intestinal lining from colorectal cancer, she says.
2. Heart health.
Because blueberries are high in fiber and contain antioxidants — which help prevent chronic diseases by protecting healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals — eating the fruit promotes heart health, Kirkpatrick says. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016 suggests that eating one cup of blueberries daily can reduce the risk of heart disease by 12% to 15%. Other research suggests that consuming a little more than a cup of blueberries daily helps reduce blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. “If you really want to help your heart, just add two handfuls of blueberries a day to your eating regimen,” Kirkpatrick says.
3. Cognitive performance.
Research presented at the 2016 National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society suggests that eating blueberries can help delay and mitigate cognitive decline. One study involved 47 people age 68 and older who had mild cognitive impairment. Researchers provided the participants either freeze-dried blueberry powder, equivalent to a cup of fresh berries, or a placebo powder once a day for 16 weeks. Those who had the blueberry powder showed “improvement in cognitive performance and brain function” compared to participants who took the placebo. A second study involving 94 people between the ages of 62 and 80 suggested that participants who had blueberry powder had better cognition than individuals who took placebos. “I tell my patients that blueberries are a great choice if you want to improve your overall brain health,” Kirkpatrick says.
4. Weight control.
Eating blueberries and other fruits is a great way to control your weight, says Lise Gloede, a registered dietitian based in Arlington, Virginia. She notes that a cup of blueberries only contains 84 calories. “Blueberries are high in fiber, which helps you feel satiated,” Gloede says. “They go great with so many foods and are versatile as part of a meal or snack. A cup of blueberries gives cereal or oatmeal a sweet, healthy punch, while adding blueberries to salads provides color and pizazz. Yogurt with fresh blueberries and a few chocolate chips makes a great low-calorie snack or dessert.”
5. Gut microbiome health.
Research suggests that maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is important in reducing inflammation and disease. Eating blueberries helps boost your microbiome, says Cara Marrs, a registered dietitian at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Everyone has a gut microbiome, a collection of about 100 trillion bacterial cells, located mostly in the gastrointestinal tract. Blueberries are a prebiotic, a type of dietary fiber that fuels the beneficial bacteria in your gut, Marrs says. “High-fiber fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds are all great sources of prebiotics, and blueberries are a great choice,” she says. “Research has shown that blueberries can enhance the gut microbiome by enhancing the growth of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, two beneficial gut bacteria.”
6. Happy bowels.
A cup of blueberries contains nearly 3.6 grams of fiber, so consuming the fruit helps keep your digestive system moving efficiently, Gloede says. Blueberries have plenty of soluble fiber, which absorbs water and adds bulk to your stool, which helps prevent diarrhea. Most men need at least 30 grams of fiber a day to keep their digestive systems working; women need at least 20 grams. “You can trust your gut on berries,” she says.
7. Whole body health.
Blueberries provide many nutrients to keep your body strong, Krawtz says. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. Vitamin C is important for healing and immune function — and it plays an important role in making collagen for skin and bones. Vitamin K is important for bone health and blood clotting. Manganese is a mineral that plays a role in metabolism. “When possible, prioritize getting vitamins and minerals from food instead of relying on supplements,” she says. “This is because vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients often work better together.”
To recap, here are 7 ways blueberries are good for your health:
— Cancer prevention.
— Heart health.
— Cognitive performance.
— Weight control.
— Gut microbiome health.
— Happy bowels.
— Whole body health.
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