Often touted as a 'superfood', does the blueberry live up to the health food hype? Nutritionist Jo Lewin investigates the dietary benefits of blueberries.
The fashionable blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a relative newcomer to the popular fruit scene and was one of the first to be titled a ‘superfood’. There are many different varieties of blueberry growing in different regions of the world. Huckleberries and bilberries are well known members of the blueberry family, native to North America.
Blueberries grow in clusters on shrubby bushes and can range in size. Some grow in the UK, but the majority of the blueberries we find in the shops will be imported. Cultivated blueberries are common and taste sweeter than those grown in the wild which are tart. Blueberries are a deep blue-purple colour with a thin translucent skin and tiny seeds.
Blueberries (and other berries such as raspberries and blackberries) are an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps protect cells against damage and aids in the absorption of iron.
They also contain a decent amount of soluble fibre, which slows down the rate at which sugar is released into the bloodstream and helps to keep the digestive system happy.
Blueberries are extremely rich in phytochemicals, naturally occurring plant compounds, such as ellagic acid and anthocyanidins which are responsible for the blue, indigo and red colouring. Phytochemicals have been extensively researched for their antioxidant action that helps protect the body against a long list of diseases. However, it is important to note that their superfood label is somewhat over the top and all berries, not just blueberries, have similar benefits.
Blueberries are low in calories and a 100g serving provides 1.5g fibre. A wide range of colourful fruits and vegetables are encouraged as part of a balanced diet and blueberries are a fantastic choice to include. One portion of blueberries is about a handful.
The health benefits of blueberries are due mainly to anthocyanidins. They are exceptional antioxidants found in red/purple fruits and vegetables, reported to be effective with a variety of health conditions.
Research has shown that anthocyanidins are highly active phytonutrients transported in the bloodstream where they act on blood vessels and collagen to reinforce and preserve it. They support blood vessel integrity around the body, not only the collagen in skin. This action has linked anthocyanidins to a reduction in cardiovascular disease (by protecting the vessels around the heart).
Another popular use of blueberries is related to vision and protecting against age-related macular degeneration. Legend suggests that during World War Two, British Air Force aviators ate bilberry jam daily to improve their night vision…
Traditional medicine suggests blueberries as a remedy for both diarrhoea and constipation and they may be able to help with urinary tract infections.
Select and store
Choose blueberries that look firm and free from moisture, since the presence of moisture will cause them to spoil. Store in the fridge where they will keep, although they are best if consumed within a few days.
UK grown blueberries are in season from June to September. In winter, they will be imported from around the world. A better environmental choice might be to choose frozen berries or freeze at home when in season.
Before freezing, spread the berries out on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until frozen. Once frozen, put them in a plastic bag for storage. Frozen blueberries may lose their texture more than other fresh berries, but the flavour still remains good.
Blueberries are an easy addition to breakfast cereals with a dollop of yogurt and they blend well into a smoothie.
This article was last reviewed on 4th July 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
A nutritionist (MBANT) Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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