More Good News for Blueberry Lovers

More Good News for Blueberry Lovers

The antioxidant-rich fruit is packed with flavor—and may also protect your heart and your mind.

If you aren’t already eating blueberries, you may want to start. This tiny, low-calorie fruit is a nutrient powerhouse, packed with vitamins C and K, manganese, dietary fiber and phytochemicals, like flavonoids, which are tied to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A growing pile of evidence also suggests that blueberries could help protect your heart as well as your mind.

A study published online in May 2019 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating one cup of blueberries daily may improve the heart health of those with metabolic syndrome—a group of risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 115 overweight and obese adults between 50 and 75-years old to eat freeze-dried powder—the equivalent of either one cup of blueberries or one half-cup—or a placebo that looked like blueberries on a daily basis. After six months, those who ate a full cup of blueberries daily had less arterial stiffness, improved vascular function and higher HDL, or “good” cholesterol levels than those who ate fewer berries or none. The study’s authors link many of these effects to anthocyanins—antioxidants in blueberries (and other red, purple, blue or black plants) that have been linked to a range of possible health benefits in studies involving animals from cancer-risk reduction to a lower risk for obesity and heart disease.

The study was partially funded by an agricultural group made up of blueberry farmers, processors and importers but these findings add to mounting evidence that blueberries may offer heart health benefits. A review published in Nutrients in August 2017 examined the findings of randomized-controlled trials, comparing the effects of anthocyanin-rich foods, like blueberries, purified anthocyanins or extracts with the effects of a placebo. The analysis suggests that consumption of this flavonoid from foods or extracts could significantly improve vascular health.

The benefits of this tiny fruit may extend to the brain as well. The anthocyanins found in blueberries could help improve cognitive function in healthy older adults. The results of animal and preliminary human studies suggest that blueberries may help ward-off age-related brain changes, and even possibly Alzheimer’s. Research from the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center further support these findings.

In the study, 47 adults aged 68 and older with mild cognitive impairment were given either freeze-dried blueberry powder (equivalent to a cup of berries) or placebo powder once a day for 16 weeks. Those who ate the blueberry powder had better cognitive performance and brain function—showing improvements in memory and ability to access words and concepts.

These findings also support the benefits of following the MIND diet, which consists mainly of brain-friendly foods and includes berries, especially blueberries, as a key component.  One study found that people who followed the MIND diet most closely had 53 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

These findings show that blueberries are associated with some health benefits, but they don’t prove that eating these berries will prevent heart disease or mental decline. Still, it certainly won’t hurt to add a handful to your morning oatmeal or yogurt. When shopping for blueberries, be sure you choose blueberries that are firm and plump and are dusty blue in color. These recipes could help you incorporate more blueberries in your diet:

Medically reviewed in June 2019.

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