Ho, Lucy, Blueberries On The Mind, 2021
It’s not always easy to know the best healthy food option for you when grocery shopping, especially when surrounded by flashy labels that promise health benefits. That’s why sometimes it’s best to return to the basics—delicious, natural food that’s guaranteed to be both healthy and tasty. When it comes to eating healthy, blueberries are almost always a good choice.
You might be wondering, what are the health benefits of blueberries? What makes them so perfect? Blueberries have been hailed as a superfood for a while now, and it’s easy to see why. Apart from the tart flavor explosions on a hot summer afternoon, blueberries offer a wide range of health benefits for many different parts of the body. From your brain to your skin, from your heart to your bones, blueberries have something that they’ll help you with. What’s more? Unlike some popular healthy foods, blueberries are natural, easy to find, and delicious.
But don’t just take our word for it! We’ve prepared evidence for all of the top health benefits of blueberries, as well as some ideas for what to do with them if eating them plain isn’t delicious enough already.
Bellesen, Rachel, Blueberries in Copper Bowl, 2021
1. Blueberries Are High in Antioxidants and Vitamins
Most of the health benefits of blueberries stem from the many antioxidants and vitamins they contain. Blueberries are particularly high in a flavonoid called anthocyanin—it’s what gives blueberries their blue color! Many of the positives of blueberries can be traced back to this little compound. Blueberries have 558 mg of anthocyanin per 100 grams, even higher than what’s found in other superfoods like acai. Of all commonly available fruits and vegetables, blueberries have among the highest antioxidant content.
On top of this, blueberries are high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese, an essential human dietary element. One cup of blueberries provides 24% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, 36% of the RDA of vitamin K, and 25% of the RDA of manganese. Between the antioxidants and vitamins in blueberries, they’re one of the most nutrient dense foods for the amount of calories they have—a fact that facilitates most of the other benefits of blueberries on this list.
2. Blueberries Can Improve Brain Health and Memory
Oxidative stress is one of the main strains on brain health that comes with aging. Though there hasn’t been a definite answer to what causes aging and aging-related diseases, one of the most widely accepted ideas is the “free-radical theory of aging.” Free-radical damage (aka the cause of aging) is caused by oxidative damage, and antioxidants inhibit oxidation and prevent damage by free radicals.
Studies done with animals show signs that the antioxidants in blueberries may benefit aging neurons, improving intelligence and cell signaling in old age. More human studies are needed to provide definitive results, but a 2011 study showed that supplementing blueberries into the diets of older adults with mild memory decline improved their memory. All in all, studies look very promising, and blueberries are likely to improve brain health and memory.
3. Blueberries Might Help to Prevent Cancer
Cancer is another adverse effect linked to free radical damage. The antioxidants in blueberries may prevent DNA damage—reducing up to 20% damage in one study—this bodes well for cancer prevention. Blueberries also contain polyphenols, which the body uses for DNA synthesis and repair, which can prevent mutations in DNA that lead to the formation of cancer cells. Blueberries are high in fiber (more on that later!), which has been shown to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer and cancers tied to excess body fat, and there is more data, though limited, supporting that the vitamin C in blueberries might help prevent lung cancer. Overall, more studies need to be conducted to provide definitive proof that blueberries prevent cancer, but the existing studies mostly support this claim, and it really can’t hurt to eat more blueberries in the first place.
4. Blueberries Are Great For Skin Health and Might Support Anti-Aging
By now, you know the drill. From earlier in this list: free radical damage is a likely cause of aging, and the antioxidants in blueberries have shown to prevent free radical damage. While this is important for big things like brain health and cancer prevention, it’s also great news for your skin! Free radicals caused by UV damage and cigarette smoking cause wrinkles by weakening skin cells. Antioxidants help to prevent this damage, and in so doing prevent wrinkles!
But the benefits of blueberries for your skin don’t stop there! Both vitamin C and anthocyanin help produce and protect collagen, one of the most important proteins for skin structure. Blueberries also improve circulation through bettering heart health (more on this next!), which means your skin will be better provided with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. When it comes to skin health, blueberries are a true triple-threat.
5. Blueberries Prevent Heart Disease by Lowering Blood Pressure and Preventing Bad Cholesterol
Oxidation damage not only speeds up aging and aging-related diseases, it also leads to oxidizing LDL cholesterol (usually called “bad cholesterol”), a major part in the development of heart disease. Polyphenols—including the antioxidants in blueberries—are strongly linked to lower levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol. In one study, obese subjects who ate 2 grams of blueberries daily over the course of eight weeks lowered their LDL oxidation by 27%. Since LDL cholesterol is one of the biggest contributors to heart disease, blueberries are a great safeguard.
But that’s not where blueberries’ role in preventing heart disease ends. While not yet definitively proven, many studies have shown that blueberries may help to lower blood pressure. One study showed that after eight weeks, obese patients who ate two ounces of blueberries daily had their blood pressure reduced by 4-6%. Another study found that regularly consuming anthocyanins can reduce the chances of a heart attack in women by 32%—though this study was observational, and not fully conclusive by itself. While there must be more research to fully prove the role of blueberries in preventing heart disease, their effects on LDL cholesterol and blood pressure certainly point in a promising direction.
Bellesen, Rachel, Happy Heart Blueberries, 2021
6. Blueberries Are Good For Managing Diabetes
It’s undeniable that blueberries, like many fruits, have a fair amount of sugar—obviously something to watch out for when dealing with diabetes. However, several studies suggest that anthocyanins have a positive effect on insulin production and glucose metabolism, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. Lowbush blueberries (which are less often sold commercially) are particularly good for this if you have access to them.
Blueberries are very high in fiber, which is beneficial for managing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. High-fiber diets reduce blood glucose levels in those with type 1 diabetes, and improve the blood sugar and insulin levels in those with type 2 diabetes. While blueberries don’t have as much fiber as something like bran, one cup of blueberries can contain up to 4 grams of fiber, a very high content for something so low in calories.
7. Blueberries Improve Digestive Health And Help With Weight Loss
Blueberries’ high-fiber content has another major benefit. Fiber is a so-called “bulking agent,” signaling to your body that it should start feeling full, leaving your stomach more satisfied and less likely to seek out more food. This makes blueberries the ultimate healthy snack, as they both provide your body with high levels of nutrients and curb your desire for more, less healthy food. Fiber is also important for a healthy digestive tract and preventing constipation.
8. Blueberries Are Low-Calorie
Another blueberry benefit for weight loss is their low calorie content. Despite being high in antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber, blueberries have only about 84 calories per cup, and only 15 grams of carbohydrates. The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) rates foods based on their levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and on their phytochemical composition, compared to their calorie content. Blueberries are highly nutrient-rich fruits according to the ANDI system, with a score of 132. This means blueberries are low-calorie despite all the other benefits they’re providing. What’s not to love?
9. Blueberries Support Bone Health
Having a full and nourished stomach is all well and good, but you want a healthy, solid structure supporting it. Vitamin K, which blueberries have a very high concentration of, improves calcium absorption. Low levels of vitamin K have been linked to a higher risk of bone fracture, something we all want to avoid.
On top of containing high levels of vitamin K, blueberries also contain a decent amount of iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and zinc—all of which are also tied to bone health, improving both bone strength and structure.
10. Blueberries Might Prevent Urinary Tract Infection and Improve After-Workout Healing
Blueberries are closely related to cranberries, and have many of the same benefits when it comes to combating urinary tract infections (UTIs.) The anti-adhesive substances in blueberries prevent bacteria from binding to the wall of your bladder, which may prevent UTIs. Because cranberries are already so well-known as a cure for this, few studies have been done on blueberries and UTI prevention, but the extant research is very promising.
Though it’s only beginning to be looked into, one study conducted recently suggests that taking blueberry supplements after a workout helps improve the healing process. Blueberry supplements may minimize soreness caused by post-workout local inflammation and speed up the muscle recovery process. This is still a very new claim, but early results look promising and blueberries are a refreshing after-workout snack either way.
The bottom line to take from this list is that blueberries are as healthy as they are delicious. Many of the benefits of blueberries do need further research to be conclusively proven. with only a few studies done on the topic—it’s best to take any promises of a superfood cure-all with a grain of salt. However, the studies that have been done are mostly very promising, and no one can deny the fact blueberries are high in essential nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber while low in calories—they are the perfect healthy snack. And if you’re not interested in eating blueberries plain, there’s a whole world of things you can do with them, from simply sprinkling them on yogurt to making something with them.
Bellesen, Rachel, Close Up Blueberries and Sprig, 2021
Blueberry Smoothie Recipe
Blueberries are a remarkably versatile fruit that go well in many dishes—part of what makes them so easy to add to your diet. If you’re tired of eating blueberries as they are, the best solution is to drink them! Blueberry smoothies are a great health food because they’re tasty and filling, but easy to make and take on the go. And when you’re making your smoothies for yourself, you can control exactly what goes into them, which is great for both taste and health! With smoothies, you can add all the fruits (and even veggies!) you need to get vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and still feel you’re having a treat, all while making a full meal in a matter of minutes. And as we’ve already covered, blueberries are the perfect fruit to frontline to get all the nutrients your body craves. You’ll get the exact same benefits of blueberries, with extra nutrition added on!
The trick with smoothies is building what’s right for you. Everyone has different preferences with taste and texture, so as long as you’re following the same basic principles, you can mix and match to your heart’s desire.
Start your smoothie with a thin liquid for the base. You can use milk or any non-dairy milk substitute for a creamier smoothie or fruit juice for a sweeter smoothie. Apple juice, white grape juice, or even orange juice will all add their own little twist to the flavor. If you use a juice instead of milk, make sure to use one with no extra sugar or corn syrup added, though, or the health benefits will be buried under additives.
Next up is the fruit. For a blueberry smoothie, you obviously need blueberries—either fresh or frozen will work. Frozen blueberries retain all of their nutrients and chill your smoothie without added ice, and fresh blueberries are bursting with flavor, so either option is good. Bananas are another great fruit to add because they bulk up the smoothie without overwhelming the blueberry taste, though on top of bananas you can really add whatever juicy fruit you have on hand that you enjoy.
Only second in importance to the fruit in a smoothie is the yogurt. The yogurt not only provides most of the thick, creamy texture you’re aiming for, it’s the main source of protein—which is absolutely essential if you want to have a smoothie as a meal. Greek yogurt is the best choice of yogurt for smoothies because it’s higher in protein and probiotics, and thicker than other kinds. Plain greek yogurt is good if you’re really looking to cut down on sugar and vanilla or berry flavored greek yogurt is great if you want your smoothie to be a little sweeter. If you don’t have any greek yogurt, normal yogurts of complementary flavors will also work, though the end result will have less protein and be slightly thinner.
Finally, there are whatever other healthy additives you want to add. Regardless of your feelings about spinach as a stand-alone vegetable, it has next to no taste when added to a smoothie and so is a fantastic healthy addition—absolutely packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 1 cup of spinach, with the stems removed for ease of blending, will get you all the nutrients you need. Flax and chia seeds are both rich in a multitude of nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, and thicken the consistency of smoothies nicely without changing the taste much. Finally, if you need that extra burst of energy, protein powder will ensure your smoothie keeps you feeling full—though make sure to use a brand that doesn’t add too many unnecessary additives.
Here’s our recipe for a basic blueberry smoothie, but customize it as you like.
The Basic Blueberry Smoothie
Author: Katie Merikallio Total Time: 5 minutes Difficulty: Easy
- 1½ cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1½ cup milk or juice
- ¾ cups of plain or vanilla greek yogurt
- 1 banana (or equivalent fruit)
- 3 ice cubes (if using fresh berries)
1. Add your thin liquid first (this will help the smoothie blend better), then your fruit and yogurt. If you’re adding chia, flax, spinach, or protein powder, also add it now. Blend on high until smooth.
2. If you’re using ice instead of frozen berries, add it now, after the smoothie has already been blended once. If not, use this time to adjust the consistency by adding more liquid or more fruit to your tastes. Blend again as needed.
3. Serve immediately.
Blueberry smoothies are incredibly easy to make, a filling breakfast, and get you all the nutrients of blueberries and more! Endlessly customizable and only a few minutes to whip up—what’s not to love? If you want to add more blueberries to your diet but want to change things up a bit, we cannot recommend blueberry smoothies highly enough.
Bellesen, Rachel, Blueberries and Sprig, 2021
The word “superfood” is often tossed around willy-nilly, but blueberries really are packed with nutrients and antioxidants on a level of their own for something found in nearly every grocery store, without any specialty packaging to boot. While there’s no one perfect food to cure all ills, and more in-depth research is needed to conclusively prove every benefit on this list, the fact remains—blueberries are filled with what your body needs, and many studies show that your body appreciates this in a variety of ways. The benefits of blueberries can’t be overstated. With all of the good stuff in them—and all of the studies that suggest their positive effect on your brain, skin, heart, etc.—there’s really no reason not to add more blueberries to your diet, especially when they’re in season.