What’s So Great About…Blueberries

What’s So Great About…Blueberries

As a kid, I hated blueberries. It was a texture thing; their skins bursting under my teeth freaked me out. It’s the same reason I wouldn’t eat chili (rubbery mushrooms and mushy beans) and don’t even get me started on the pulp in orange juice. So my mom strained my orange juice, made me a different dinner on chili night and picked the blueberries out of my fruit salad. Why yes, I am the baby of the family, what makes you ask? Fortunately, I got over my distaste for blueberries and good thing too because it turns out the little fruit packs a nutritional wallop when it comes to everything from preventing Alzheimer’s, cancer and high blood pressure to avoiding wrinkles.

 I spoke to Cathy Hayashi, a holistic nutritionist at the Carrot Common in Toronto about what is so great about blueberries. Cathy says, “Blueberries are rich in manganese, vitamin C and vitamin E.  They’re also antioxidant powerhouses.  Phytonutrients in blueberries such as anthocyanidins and ellagic acid work to prevent free radical damage to the cardiovascular system, vision, and brain. They also protect against various cancers and may hinder its development.  In a way, blueberries are miraculous (as are all whole foods) considering how well they can help support our health”.  There are significant studies that support the humble blueberry’s superfood status not only in preventing cancer but in lowering bad cholesterol and preventing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia as well as the general aging of the body. A Psychology Today article reported on a 1999 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience which found that “a diet rich in blueberries reversed age related declines in balance and coordination”.

When it comes to children’s health, blueberries again rank high. Hayashi says, “Specific health benefits for children include possible improved eye health (especially night vision), cognitive function, and healthy elimination due to the fibre content. Children are targeted with highly processed, sugar- and chemical-laden foods which can lead to health issues like childhood diabetes, obesity and behavioural issues”.  And children who eat poorly often become adults who eat poorly. Bite sized and easy for little hands to grab and gobble, blueberries,”are not only nutrient dense, they are also tasty and fun.  They make a great snack or dessert that children will choose for themselves.  And starting with fun, tasty whole foods will help develop a foundation of better eating.”  But Hayashi stresses “keep in mind, processed foods containing blueberries do have significantly reduced nutritional values in comparison to fresh or frozen blueberries.” And be warned, a recent investigation showed that some processed cereals and bars aimed at children may have blueberry in the name but none on the ingredient list. Instead, sugars, artificial flavours and colouring account for the little blue dots in things like General Mills Total Blueberry Pomegranate cereal and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry Muffin cereal.

Since domestic blueberries have the dubious distinction of landing on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with the highest rates of pesticide absorption, Hayashi says wild or organic is the way to go. In addition to the issue of chemical residue, she explains “plants develop antioxidants while growing as a defence mechanism against the harsh rigours of nature. If a plant is sprayed with herbicides and pesticides it becomes unnecessary to develop such protection.  Studies comparing antioxidant values in organic and conventional foods have shown greater levels of antioxidants in organic produce.”   Wild blueberries are generally considered on the safe side, but, unfortunately, “there is no guarantee that they are entirely pesticide free depending on their proximity to farming and industry.”

And what about taking the shortcut with blueberry extract? Hayashi says “a varied and well-rounded whole foods diet is always best. Often, it’s the interaction of many the nutrients, phytochemicals and other compounds that work together to support the body in optimal health”. But she does agree that some research is showing promising results with extract comparable to those found with the actual fruit.

Most parents struggle to make sure kids are getting everything they need and sometimes that means supplementing; D drops and Vitamin C in the winter, omega 3’s for brain development and on it goes. Isn’t it nice to know you can give your kids nature’s little blue pill? I’m still convinced pulp in orange juice is the devil’s work.

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