Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are beautiful little blue morsels packed with a deliciously sweet flavor and a nutritional profile that rivals that of most other fresh plants and vegetables. In fact, blueberries are some of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet. Ready for the blueberry breakdown? Let’s go!
Where Oh Where Do Blueberries Grow?
Blueberries come in two different varieties: highbush and lowbush blueberries. Highbush blueberries are the kind that you may find at your local grocery store or farmers market. Lowbush blueberries tend to be smaller and slightly sweeter, and are typically used for juices, jams, and other commercially prepared foods such as blueberry muffins or mixes.
Blueberries are native to North America but the wild blueberry can be found growing all over the world, including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and some temperate climates of Asia. They’re easily cultivated and commercially grown in South America and even Northern Africa.
Surprisingly there are hybrids of the highbush blueberries that have been shown to thrive in freezing temperatures. You can find these hybrid highbush blueberries as far north as Scandinavia and as far south as Chile and Argentina.
Ninety-eight percent of all blueberries in the United States are grown in just 10 states:
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
Florida alone is responsible for producing about 17 million pounds of fresh blueberries each year.
Regardless of the massive scale of blueberry production in the U.S., most blueberries consumed by Americans are imported from Canada and Chile. The average American consumes 1.2 pounds of blueberries a year.
Over the past 20 years, production of highbush blueberries has increased by more than 500 million pounds in North America, and the U.S. harvest season usually occurs from mid-June to mid-August. Although in Florida, mostly because of the humidity and warm year-round conditions, blueberry production peaks during March and April.
Blueberry Nutrition Facts
Blueberries are rich in powerful phytonutrients known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins give blueberries both their vibrant blue color and their numerous health benefits, like promoting heart health and bone strength, maintaining healthy blood pressure, keeping your skin looking and feeling radiant, helping to prevent cancer, and even positively contributing to mental health.
A large handful (or about a cup) of blueberries contains 84 calories, 3.6 grams of fiber, and 1.1 grams of protein. That same 1 cup of blueberries is also a good source of calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and folate, and provides 24% of the total recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
Blueberries are also naturally abundant in copper, beta-carotene, and vitamin E, vitamin B6, and vitamin A. They’re rich in flavonoids and phytochemicals that have been shown to possess many anti-inflammatory and anti-neurodegenerative properties.
We’ve mentioned the powerful antioxidant anthocyanins already, but blueberries also contain a wide range of phenolic compounds—quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and chlorogenic acid—known to have abundant antioxidant properties.
The dense nutritional profile of blueberries places them high on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (or ANDI). This index is responsible for rating foods based on their phytochemical composition, antioxidant content, and vitamin and mineral abundance. Currently, blueberries have a score of 132 on the ANDI, making these little blue gems one of the most highly rated fruits on the charted list of fruits and vegetables.
Frozen vs. Fresh Blueberries
One blueberry can freeze in 4 minutes flat. (Go ahead, try it out and time your blueberries!)
While frozen blueberries are an excellent alternative to fresh that you can add quickly to smoothies, cake, and pie recipes, and even eat as a refreshing snack, there is some evidence to suggest that freezing blueberries does diminish the health benefits. In fact, this study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences revealed that over the course of 6 months in storage, the anthocyanin in the frozen blueberries degraded by 59%.
While more research is certainly needed, fresh organic blueberries have been consistently linked to myriad health benefits and are often considered a powerhouse superfood that’s worth including in your regular diet as much as you would like. Let them top your yogurt alongside cranberries and bilberries, or blend them up in a beet and blueberry smoothie!
Health Benefits of Blueberries
It’s no question that eating blueberries can lead to lifelong benefits, but here are some science-based quantifiable ways blueberries can impact your health and wellness for years to come.
Blueberries Help Prevent Cancer
The powerful antioxidants found in blueberries, including vitamins C and A, have been shown to protect cells against the free radical damage that can eventually lead to cancer and other diseases.
According to a study conducted by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the presence of blueberry antioxidants can even cause cell apoptosis (or cell death) of some cancerous cells in vitro.
Blueberries May Lower Blood Pressure
According to a study conducted by Nutrition Research, researchers discovered that including blueberry extract in the diets of hypertensive stroke-prone rats lowered blood pressure dramatically. The researchers believe that this reduction could help protect kidneys and reduce the risk of hypertension. Nutrients in blueberries also help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the blood vessels, thereby helping to protect against cardiovascular disease and related complications.
Blueberries Help Prevent and Manage Diabetes
A large-scale study conducted in 2013 for The BMJ suggests that including certain fruits in a person’s diet (and yes blueberries count) significantly reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes. Research indicates that polyphenols in blueberries may help suppress specific digestive enzymes and protect against rapid increases in blood sugar levels.
Blueberries Help Prevent Heart Disease
A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia showed that when blueberries were included as part of a regular diet (thus adding a high level of anthocyanins), young or middle-aged women reduced their risk of a heart attack by 32%.
This study was a large-scale one, following almost 100,000 women between the ages of 25 and 42. Subjects who consumed at least three servings of blueberries or strawberries each week showed the most promising results.
Blueberries Improve Brain Health
Flavonoids have long been associated with enhanced mental health and the prevention of cognitive decline. A study presented in the US National Library of Medicine, linked high blueberry intake with a significant reduction in cognitive decline, even delaying genetic predispositions for up to two and a half years.
Blueberry consumption has also been shown to improve short-term memory loss, and even help improve motor skills in aging adults.
Another study conducted in the European Journal of Nutrition tested brain function in adults ages 60-75. Participants consumed freeze-dried blueberries or a placebo for 90 days. They completed a series of tests for balance, cognition, and gait both at the beginning of the study, 45 days in, and at the end of the 90 days.
There was no significant improvement found in gait or balance. However, those who took the freeze-dried blueberries performed better in the cognitive testing.
Blueberries and Skin Health
Vitamin C is believed to contribute to the natural production (and regeneration) of collagen in the skin, which allows the skin to look younger, fuller, and helps prevent damage from the sun and pollution. And as we’ve seen, blueberries are extraordinarily high in vitamin C!
Blueberries for Weight Loss and Weight Management
Blueberries are naturally rich in dietary fiber, which has long been associated with aiding in weight loss and weight management by creating a feeling of satiety. A cup of blueberries can leave you feeling full and satisfied for much longer than a cup of potato chips or another high-fat, low-dietary fiber food.
Blueberries can also help prevent constipation and support a healthy digestive tract.
Eat More Blueberries
Blueberries are readily available year round and, depending on the area of the country you live in, can be found fresh. Organic is always best, as blueberries do tend to regularly make an appearance on the list of the Dirty Dozen (a list of the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide content).
Blueberries are also super versatile and can be eaten fresh as a snack or in many healthful recipes. They can be topped on your morning oatmeal, added to waffle and pancake recipes, and baked in scones or muffins.
Blueberries can be sprinkled on salads, tossed in pasta dishes, or included as part of a homemade jam or fruit spread to crackers and cheese or sandwiches. Fresh blueberry juice combined with a simple syrup, can make a delicious topping for pancakes or waffles.
You can also toss a handful of fresh or frozen blueberries into a smoothie, along with a scoop of VeggieShake, a banana, and milk of your choice for a slightly sweet, but definitely delicious morning boost of nutrition.
A Note of Caution for Blueberries
Blueberries are unusually high in vitamin K, which can cause complications for those on blood thinning medication. If you’re on blood thinners, do not increase your blueberry intake rapidly, and be sure to consult with a qualified medical professional before adding more blueberries to your diet.