Despite their size, blueberries are proving to be one of the most powerful weapons against the effects of ageing and disease, says Andrea Duvall.
All berries are plump with valuable antioxidants, but new scientific evidence shows that blueberries also boast potent anti-inflammatory abilities.
“The media often talks about antioxidants, which scavenge free radicals that could damage the body, but we’re now finding that this is only the tip of the iceberg,” explains Professor Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University in the US.
“Blueberries contain a huge number of phytochemicals, which they manufacture to ward off the ravages of the environment,” says Lila. “So when people eat them, these same chemicals interact to improve the human body.”
Last year, Lila and colleagues conducted a study that examined athletes who ate a combination of blueberries, green tea and protein—a mixture that produced an anti-inflammatory response in the athletic subjects’ bodies. Interestingly, this effect was still measurable even 14 hours after they’d ingested these foods.
“Inflammation plays a part in many diseases—from diabetes and obesity to cardiovascular disease, all of which lessen our longevity,” says Lila. “So if we can depress the symptoms of inflammation, we can depress the progress of these diseases. What’s particularly different about blueberries is that they can help treat a multiplicity of problematic health conditions.”
Lila’s previous research has shown that concentrated amounts of blueberry phytochemicals can also lower blood-glucose levels—a finding that points to a possible new way of dealing with diabetes. It’s important to note that Lila’s latest study subjects experienced much stronger anti-inflammatory benefits when they exercised. On days when they rested, the blueberries’ positive effects on their bodies were significantly less noticeable.
“This gives us better evidence of the bioadvantage that fruit and vegetables offer when we exercise,” says Lila.
While researchers explore how sensitive these key compounds are to heating and cooking, Lila’s message is simple: Eat half a cup to one cup of blueberries a day (she has hers frozen, topped with warm porridge) to enjoy some of their anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting force.
Four ways to reap the rewards of blueberries
Scatter them over muesli
Whiz them into a smoothie
Top yoghurt with chopped nuts and fresh blueberries