In my last post, I talk about how my family’s favorite Berry-peach Bubble-gum Smoothie, is packed
with nutrients and relatively low in sugar. Still, my passion for healthy food is fueled by more than just
nutritional information. Hippocrates famously said “Let food be thy medicine”, and because nothing excites me more than curing ills with food instead of a pill, I will be using this blog to learn how to do exactly that. I’ll post a recipe and then follow up with information about key ingredients that go beyond calories and food groups. As I accumulate the resources, I’ll discuss the food from an Ayurvedic perspective as well.
I chose blueberries for today’s post because they really don’t get enough credit. They’re low-calorie, high-fiber, high in vitamin C and chock-full of anti-oxidants. These little guys just don’t quit being amazing.
Here are just some of the anti-oxidants and phytonutrients (plant-nutrients) found in blue-berries, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
Ellagitannins, flavonols (such as quercetin and kaempferol), catechins, phenolic acids, and the polyphenolic compound resveratrol (made famous by grapes and red wine). Others are anthocyanidins (anti-oxidants),proanthocyanidins, beta-carotene (the plant form of vitamin A), chlorogenic acid, glutathione (helps with detoxification in the liver), and alpha-tocopherol.
Berries of all kinds have been used for preventing various types of illness and malaise. I once spoke to a guy selling a berry supplement who called it “roto-rooter for the blood vessels”. Turns out he was right! Blueberries’ anti-oxidant effects prevent damage to the linings of blood vessels, and prevent damage to DNA and cell membranes (cancer and anti-aging). Some small clinical trials have shown that factors linked to cardiovascular disease like glucose, lipids and high blood pressure improve with berry consumption. Blueberry extract was found in one study to inhibit a key-enzyme related to tumor
Like their cousin, the cranberry, blueberries are great for preventing urinary tract infections because they prevent bacteria from clinging to the bladder wall and prevent bacterial colonization in the bladder. Some research also indicate that blueberries might be beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease. Research related to blood glucose control and diabetes is mixed. It seems like blueberry may have a role in lowering resistance to insulin, which is a major factor in diabetes. However, it does not seem to directly lower blood glucose.
Other uses for blueberries include for preventing cataracts, glaucoma, ulcers, fevers, chronic fatigue, varicose veins, improving circulation, hemorroids, and as a laxative.
Resveratrol, which I mentioned above, is a pretty interesting compound. It must be, because there is tons of research that has been done on it. We definitely know that resveratrol is helpful in reducing inflammation and that it prevents DNA and other cellular damage via its anti-oxidant activity and anti-mutagen activity (prevents DNA mutation). One study showed that resveratrol can increase life-span in animals on a high calorie diet (which humans most certainly are on!). The study also showed it helped with other factors that are correlated with increased lifespan including increased insulin sensitivity, which helps with diabetes. Another showed that it decreases mortality in alcohol related liver damage. In one animal study, injections of resveratrol into joints showed a better anti-inflammatory effect than conventional medication. Besides blueberries, resveratrol is primarily found in red-wine, red-grape skins, purple grape-juice, mulberries, and in smaller amounts, peanuts.
How to Consume Blueberries:
One study showed that cooked blue-berries have about 40% less resveratrol than raw – so remember that blueberry jam isn’t as good for you as the fresh stuff (not to mention the added sugar!). The same goes for juices and freeze-dried berries – the pasteurization and drying degrade the nutritional profile of the berries. Berry supplements have also shown to have potential anti-diabetic and anti-artery-clogging properties, so those are okay too.
“Blueberry.” Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 7 July 2011. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/home.aspx?cs=&s=ND>.
“Resveratrol.” Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 12 July 2011. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/home.aspx?cs=&s=ND>.
Basu, Arpita, Michael Rhone, and Timothy J. Lyons. “Berries: Emerging Impact on Cardiovascular Health.” Nutrition Reviews 68.3 (2010): 168-77.