As a child, were you fearful of the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Violet Beauregarde blows up into a gigantic blueberry after chewing blueberry pie-flavored gum? Or were you scared of the fact that she had to be rolled out and “squeezed” before she exploded? Lucky for us, blueberries have quite a different reaction in our bodies.
Blueberries from the Great Spirit?
The blueberry, from the ericaceae family, is one of the few fruits native to North America and happens to be one of the only true blue foods in the world. Enjoyed by Native Americans for hundreds of years, Europeans quickly learned about the blueberry and brought it back to Europe, although mass consumption didn’t exist until the 20th century. Folklore spread around the tribes, with one tale in particular about the calyx (the blossom end of the berry) and why it forms a perfect five-pointed star. Elders said they formed stars because the Great Spirit sent these “star berries” to relieve the hunger of children during a famine—it served as a reminder of past famines.
Native Americans used parts of the mystical fruit for medicine and created a tea from the leaves of the plant to keep their blood healthy. While the juice treated their coughs, it was also useful in the dying of baskets and clothing. Stews and soups were a target for this tart berry as well. They even used powdered blueberry as a meat rub!
Flash-forward to today, and blueberries are popular on just about every continent. They are the second-most popular berry behind the delicious strawberry. The United States alone cultivates 275 million pounds and supplies over half of all blueberries globally.
What’s the big deal?
What makes blueberries so relevant to the health industry? One reason might be that blueberries hold high antioxidant capacities over other fruits, vegetables, spices, and seasonings. Or maybe it’s because this berry is low on the glycemic index and that a cup contains only 80 calories while still giving you almost 25 percent of your suggested vitamin C intake. The truth is, blueberries are good for your entire body.
Just one to two cups a day will improve your blood-fat balance, lower triglycerides, and lower LDL cholesterol. People diagnosed with high blood pressure show significant signs of reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure if they, over time, regularly eat blueberries. That’s impressive for such a tiny berry.
A recent study published in the Annals of Neurology found that blueberries high in flavonoids appear to reduce cognitive decline in older adults. The study also says that the aging of the brain could be delayed to as much as 2.5 years in elderly people who consume high amounts of flavonoid-rich berries. Flavanoids, the 6,000 groups of substances that are responsible for plant colors found by the Hungarian scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, also seem to function as an antioxidant in the body that keeps it healthy and running smoothly. More experts believe that stress and inflammation are key contributors to cognitive impairment and that flavonoids in blueberries can mitigate their harmful effects.
Raw or frozen?
The beauty of the blueberry is that no matter how you eat it, you’ll still receive all the natural benefits. Still, it’s important to get a good batch of these blue delights. Make sure that the berries are firm and have a lively blue hue; this will show that they are fresh. Next, shake the container. If the blueberries don’t move, it usually indicates that they are either too soft, damaged, or moldy and should be avoided. Keep the berries dry until you eat them. Water will cause decay if it sits on the surface too long and destroys the protective skin on the berry. Keep berries stored in a covered container in the refrigerator in order to keep them fresh for up to three days. Leaving them out on the counter will cause them to decompose three times faster.
If you decide to freeze the berries, wash them with cool water and spread them out on a cookie sheet or baking pan to dry. This will help ensure uniform texture. When dry, place them in a plastic bag and freeze. Even after six months, blueberries still hold all the antioxidants they originally contained. This means that if consumed out of season, which occurs between November and April, you can still enjoy these deliciously tart treats.
How do I eat them?
Besides the fact that blueberries are sweet and sometimes a little tart, they also hold about 3.8 grams of fiber in each cup, and provide a good amount of manganese, which helps in bone development and converts proteins, carbs, and fats into energy. That is why they should be a part of your daily food choices. But how should you eat them? Obvious answers are muffins, pancakes, streusels, and pies. Luckily there are good recipes out there that let you enjoy the sweetness of them, while still letting you be good to your body. Here are a few recipes to enjoy:
Baked Blueberry French Toast
12-inch French or sourdough baguette
4 egg whites
1 cup fat-free soy milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon molasses
3 tablespoons brown rice syrup, divided
¾ cup blueberries, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup shopped pecans, toasted (optional)
Spray a 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Cut 10 1-inch-thick slices from a baguette. Arrange in baking dish. In large bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy. Then whisk in milk, nutmeg, vanilla, and 1/2 tablespoon molasses and 1 1/2 tablespoon brown rice syrup. Pour evenly over bread, turning slices to coat evenly. Cover pan. Chill at least eight hours or overnight, until liquid is absorbed by bread. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drop blueberries evenly over bread. In small bowl, stir together molasses, remaining brown rice syrup, and oil, and pecans if you wish. Spoon evenly over bread. Bake uncovered, about 20 minutes, until liquid from blueberries is bubbling. Courtesy of Mayo Clinic staff
Blueberry Peach Crisp
Prep/cook time: 10 min prep; 45 min cook
10 oz fresh or frozen blueberries
1 lb fresh or frozen peach slices
¼ cup apple juice
½ cup almonds
½ cup rolled oats
1 cup pitted dates
2 tablespoons apple juice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place blueberries in bottom of square 8-inch baking pan. Make sure they are completely thawed if frozen. If frozen, make sure they are also drained of excess water. Place peach slices on top of blueberries. Drizzle ¼ cup apple juice over fruit. Remove pits from dates and place in bowl with oats, almonds, and cinnamon. Use food processor until dates have blended with oats and almonds. Add apple juice; mix well. Place mixture evenly over peaches and blueberries. Bake uncovered. Serve warm or cool. Courtesy of World’s Healthiest Foods (whfoods.org)