By Ellen Kamhi PhD RN – The Natural Nurse.
Blueberries are one of the few fruits native to North American. Native Americans used the berries for food and dye. They believed the five pointed star that forms at the end of fruit signified that the tribal ancestors sent “star berries” as a spiritual gift. When settlers from England arrived in the northeast, local tribes taught them how to use the nutritious and delicious blueberry as part of their food staples. During the Civil War, dried blueberries and blueberry beverages were used as an important food source for soldiers.
Antioxidants are substances that help protect our cells from damage due to ‘free radicals’- molecules that disrupt cell membranes, which can eventually lead to the effects of aging and disease. Among natural sources of antioxidants, blueberries are excellent. A study performed by the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston Massachusetts compared 40 common fruits and vegetables and found blueberries as the highest in antioxidant activity. One ½ cup serving of blueberries delivers as much antioxidant power as 5 servings of many other fruits and vegetables!
Blueberries are very high in proanthocyanin, a well-studied specific antioxidant that prevents an excess of free radicals. Blueberries are also high in healthy substances known as flavonoids , including anthocyanin. Anthocyanins, from two Greek words meaning “plant” and “blue”, are responsible for the intense blue and red pigments of blueberries. Over 60 scientific studies link the blue in wild blueberries to good health.
Anthyocyanins have a different chemical structure compared with other common antioxidants such as Vitamin C. This unique structure makes them three to four times more potent than other fruits and vegetables. Although other red or purple fruits such as plums and strawberries also contain anthyocyanin, Blueberries appear to have the highest concentrations of this antioxidant among fruits commercially available in North America.
Blueberries are promising nutritional weapons against disease. In today’s world, blueberries are being heralded as a delicious weapon in the “anti-aging”, or as I prefer to call it, the ‘graceful aging’ arsenal. In a study funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the U. S. Department of Agriculture, which appeared in the September 15, 1999, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, rats were fed a blueberry extract diet, rich in naturally derived antioxidants. The rats showed fewer age-related motor changes and out-performed their study counterparts on memory tests. Although strawberry and spinach extracts also improved short term memory, only blueberries supported progress in navigation capabilities and overall co-ordination. This is important because aging often causes challenges with co-ordination and balance. I addition, rats in all the supplement groups had sufficient Vitamin E in the cell membranes of their brains, which increases cellular flexibility and repair. Holly McCord, RD, author of “The Miracle Berry” and Prevention’s Nutrition Editor says, “If you add one food to your diet this year, make it blueberries.” According to McCord, blueberries are the “… single most ferocious food in the supermarket at halting the forces that age you.”
Professor David Morgan at the Alzheimer’s Research Lab at the University of South Florida is also excited about the possibilities of blueberries. Morgan has worked with Tuft’s University on a transgenic model of Alzheimer’s disease and says he hopes the research he’s involved in proves that blueberries are the nutritional answer to disease and aging that they seem to be. With a scientist’s skepticism, he adds, “I doubt that our studies will show blueberries to be the miracle cure some people claim – but I hope they do. Blueberries are an affordable, healthy and delicious remedy.”
To get an even better effect, choose “organic” blueberries whenever possible, to avoid the negative effects associated with pesticides. A good plan of action is to ‘stock up’ on organic blueberries when they are in season, and simple put containers in the freezer to be used at a later date. They can be eaten ‘as is’, or added to healthy breakfast cereals, oatmeal or yogurt for a nutritious start to the day. Another great way to save blueberries for a ‘rainy day’ is to purchase a dehydrator and dry the fresh berries for later use- this is a good way to save many kinds of healthy fruits and vegetables for times when they are not in season.
Try this Blueberry Smoothie:
8-12 ounces of Unsweetened Soy Milk or Organic Skim Milk
One Scoop of Organic Spirulina or Barley Grass Powder
1 Tablespoon or Organic Unrefined Coconut Oil
½ cup Organic Fresh or Frozen Blueberries
2 –3 ice cubes
Place all together in a blender, and Blend for One Minute
Enjoy a Healthy, High Protein, Nutritious , Low Calorie Meal!
Ellen Kamhi PhD RN, The Natural Nurse®, can be heard on radio daily. She is the author of several books, including WEIGHT LOSS, the Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide. Dr. Kamhi has been involved in natural health care for over 4 decades. She answers consumer questions at http://www.naturesanswer.com, and has a private practice on Long Island. http://www.naturalnurse.com 800-829-0918