Blueberries are known to be a nutritional powerhouse because of their high levels of nutrients like dietary fiber, manganese and vitamin K, with just 80 calories per 1-cup serving. But did you know that they are also one of the top sources of powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins? Scientists around the world have been investigating blueberries, largely because of their anthocyanin content, for their disease-fighting potential… and the quantity of research is growing by leaps and bounds!
The word anthocyanin comes from the Greek terms anthos (flower) and kuanos (blue). Anthocyanins give fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, purple corn, red cabbage, red onions and eggplants the beautiful red-orange to blue-purple hues. Aside from the attractive aesthetics, anthocyanins have been shown to exhibit beneficial effects on brain and eye health, prevention of cardiovascular disease, and protection from certain types of cancer. This is largely due to their antioxidant and/or anti-inflammatory properties.
Antioxidants simply play a game of cops and robbers in your body, where the cops (antioxidants) can keep the robbers (free radicals) at bay to ensure peace in your body. Anthocyanins are kind of like the chief of police!
Our newest research shows that higher intakes of anthocyanins equivalent what is present in to 1- to 2-cups of blueberries per day can help lower your LDL or “bad” cholesterol, thus improving heart health (click here). New research out of the United Kingdom shows that children consuming higher levels of anthocyanins from blueberries preform better on cognitive tasks. Similar findings have been shown on working memory in older adults. Research suggests that anthocyanins have the potential to effect health by decreasing inflammation, preventing oxidation of lipids (which causes plaques to form), and improving blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain. Low-grade chronic inflammation caused by the typical American diet is a primary mechanism that has been attributed too many chronic diseases and can be controlled by the anthocyanins “health police.”
It is well accepted by scientists that diets rich in colorful fruits and vegetables are linked to health, longevity, and a reduced risk for the development of many chronic diseases. A recent report of optimal fruit and vegetable consumption found that if you eat according to U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, your average anthocyanin intake would be about 11 mg/day (enough to offer heart healthy benefits). One cup of blueberries or blackberries provides almost double this amount.
And get this… frozen blueberries (or just berries in general) are picked ripe and typically contain more nutrients and a higher level of anthocyanins!
You can learn more about the specific disease-associated health effects of anthocyanins by downloading my textbook “Anthocyanins in Health and Disease.”