Blueberries are in season! These tasty low-calorie treats are bursting with flavor and nutrition, with the highest antioxidant level of any fruit or vegetable. Anthocyanidins, the phytonutrients that give blueberries their antioxidant power, have been found to improve cardiovascular health and fight cancer, as well as prevent varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers and glaucoma, and will keep your skin glowing.
Anthocyanidins improve the integrity of support structures in the veins and entire vascular system and are the reason red wine is considered so heart healthy. But a recent study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that blueberries contain 38 percent more of these nutrients than red wine. In addition, researchers at the University of Maine found that test rats that were fed wild blueberry powder showed an increased level of a type of carbohydrate molecules in the blood vessel walls, called galactosaminoglycans (GalAGs), that made the blood vessels more resistant to oxidative stress (the production of free radicals) that can lead to cardiovascular disease.
A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that when leukemia cells were treated with low doses of a common type of naturally-modified anthocyanidin called cyanidin-3-rutinoside (C-3-R), the cancer cells released peroxides which killed them. In addition, the C-3-R had no apparent toxic effect on healthy cells. Doctors are hoping to use this information to create new treatments for leukemia and decrease the use of invasive cancer treatments such as radiation. A study on the affect of strawberries on the elderly concluded that the ellagic acid (another type of phytonutrient) in strawberries - also found in blueberries - blocks metabolic pathways that can lead to cancer. Test subjects who ate the most strawberries were found to be three times less likely to develop cancer.
Pterostilbene, another antioxidant found in blueberries, lowers cholesterol and may be an effective treatment of diabetes. It has been clinically proven to be more effective than statin drugs in lowering LDL cholesterol without any of the negative side effects associated with traditional medications. In at least one study, pterostilbene has also been shown to lower blood glucose levels in rats by 42 percent; however, more studies are needed to confirm this finding and determine its effect on humans. The nutrient myrtillin anthocyanoside (or myrtillus in the European blueberry) was also found to reduce hyperglycemia in normal and diabetic dogs when taken orally (human studies are needed). But homeopaths have been using blueberry leaves to treat diabetes for ages. To lower blood sugar levels and relieve inflammation of the kidneys, bladder and prostate, try steeping two or three handfuls of leaves in hot water for about a half hour.
The high fiber in blueberries can also aid digestion and elimination, relieving both diarrhea and constipation. The fiber removes excess bile that can develop into a potentially cancer-causing form, while the tannins act as an astringent to reduce inflammation in the digestive system. Blueberries also contain the same compounds found in cranberries (a close relative) to help prevent and treat urinary tract infections.
Extracts of bilberry (the European version of the blueberry) have been found to improve nighttime vision, visual acuity and reduce eyestrain. During World War II, British Air Force pilots consumed bilberry preserves before night missions. According to a study published in study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, three servings or more of blueberries each day may lower your risk of developing macular degeneration, which can lead to vision loss.
Blueberries will help keep you looking, feeling, and thinking young as they help to protect the brain from stress and have been found to improve learning capacity and motor skills in aging animals by boosting neuron signals. Consuming blueberries has also been linked to decreased incidences of Alzheimer's disease and reduced inflammation from arthritis. Blueberries not only fight free radicals, which are responsible for the loss of collagen - and thereby wrinkles - in our skin as we age, their anthocyanidin content also supports the skin's vascular structure.
Blueberries are in season from May through October. Ripe berries should be dark blue, firm and unwrinkled. Mushy or bleeding berries are overripe, while green-tinged berries are under ripe. Remove any damaged berries to prevent mold growth and store them either in the refrigerator, where they will keep for about a week, or in the freezer for up to a year. Wash the berries only right before you are going to use them as this will remove their waxy, protective coating.
Baby foods, canned foods, breads, and cereals that contain blueberries do not contain the natural anthocyanins, which are destroyed during processing. To get the full nutritional benefit of blueberries, use only fresh or frozen.
Add blueberries to a smoothie, yogurt or cereal for a tasty and nutritious breakfast, and desserts such as blueberry crisp, pie, cobbler and muffins are always family favorites.
Note: People who suffer from untreated kidney or bladder problems should avoid eating blueberries as they contain oxalates, which may become too concentrated in bodily fluids, crystallize and cause health problems.