Health Benefits of Blueberries
When most people talk about blueberries, what they’re actually referring to is the fruit of the native mast-producing shrub Vaccinium corymbosum, or Highbush blueberry. The Vacciniums are one of the few families of mast-producing trees and shrubs native to North America that have no Eurasian family members, and they remain one of the most popular and beloved of all native North American fruits.
The reason is clear: blueberries are both delicious and nutritious!
One cup of fresh blueberries contains just 81 calories, yet has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit. Anthocyanidins, a major component of the reddish-blue pigment of blueberries, are also powerful antioxidants that have been found to help neutralize free radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues, which could otherwise lead to health problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease, and cancer.
Blueberries also contain sizable amounts of another antioxidant compound called ellagic acid, which has been found to reduce the risk of cancer. Blueberries seem to be especially effective at reducing the risk of colon and ovarian cancer.
Blueberries are closely related to cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and share the qualities of cranberries that make them very effective at protecting urinary tract health and reducing the risk of urinary tract infections. Blueberries are also high in fiber, so like other high fiber foods, they reduce the risk of constipation, diarrhea, and type 2 diabetes.
Finally, blueberries are good sources of vitamin C, vitamin E, and manganese.
Sadly, commercially grown blueberries are considered to be one of the “dirty dozen” foods: foods best purchased organic due to their high level of pesticide residues. The USDA Pesticide Data program has found residues of 52 different pesticides on blueberries, including 8 known or probable carcinogens, 24 suspected hormone disruptors, 14 neurotoxins, and 7 developmental or reproductive toxicants.
Organic blueberries can be fairly expensive, so if your family loves blueberries, you can save money by gathering wild blueberries in areas where this is allowed, or by growing your own. Blueberries do best in slightly acidic, sandy soils that are moist but well drained and high in organic matter. Most varieties are ornamental as well as edible and make very attractive additions to any landscape.