By now (unless you've been living in a cave somewhere in the outback of Australia, or have zero contact to the internet. If so, then welcome, you're going to love it) you've probably seen the humble blueberry popping up all over the place on your social media feeds and Google search results, every time you search anything remotely related to nutrition.
The humble little blueberry is a berry. Is, well, (dark) blue and above all very appropriately named. Aside from that, it is an absolute power house of health and nutrition.
It's a native of North America but cultivated varieties can be found pretty much anywhere these days. In this world were we can just about manipulate anything, growing in non-native climates doesn't seem to be too much of an issue.
So what is little Blue's secret health boosting ingredient?
Blue's secret to health and well-being are little things called Antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that are produced in your body and are found in foods. Some more than others. For example, you won't find many antioxidants in your chicken nuggets from that well known food chain. But take a microscopic look down inside Blue's bowels and you'll find a ton.
But what do Antioxidants do?
They're there to help defend your cells from damage caused by free radicals.
From what now? They're basically unstable molecules that are responsible for cell damage, leading to illness and ageing. If too many free radicals accumulate, they cause something called oxidative stress. This can damage your DNA and other important stuff in your cells.
Don't worry. You can do something to combat that. Just eat loads of antioxidants. That doesn't mean loading up on wheelbarrows full of blueberries (and other stuff, which I'll list a bit further down) but just means adding these delicious little balls of healthful joy to your daily dozen.
So tell me more about these little balls of joy?
Well, Blueberries are what you call 'nutrient dense'. That means you get more for your money when it comes to these little guys. One cup (that's about 150 ish grams) has all this:
4 grams of fiber24% of your recommended intake for Vitamin C36% of your recommended intake for Vitamin K, and25% of your recommended intake for manganese
But what does all that mean?
Well, you need fiber to keep your digestion running smoothly. We won't go too much into
that, but a good fiber intake means needing less reading material in the bathroom. Vitamin C, among a whole host of important internal stuff, is essential for your immune system function. Therefore, helping to ward off the dreaded lurgy come cold and flu season. Vitamin K is really important for blood clotting and Manganese is important, among other things, for processing cholesterol, carbohydrates and protein.
All that in one simple cup of Blueberries! And as if it couldn't get any better, they're also low in calories with only around 84 calories in a cup. That's a lot of sweet, healthy goodness for absolutely no guilt.
Eating Blueberries has also been shown to cause a direct increase in antioxidant levels in the body, which in turn protects those cells from damage which causes aging and diseases. Even so far as offering protection against Cancer.
What else can they do? They sound amazing !
I mentioned before the term Oxidative stress. Well, that can also affect cholesterol. Cholesterol is a very important little substance in our bodies that has many useful functions. Cholesterol can also suffer damage at the hands of those pesky little free radicals. There have been studies that show just 50 grams of blueberries a day can lower LDL (which has been termed bad cholesterol) cholesterol levels by 27% over an 8 week period. Did I also mention that they're delicious?
Blueberries can also have a positive effect on blood pressure, where another study showed reduced blood pressure over an 8 week period. (my personal opinion on these types of studies is that there are many many other factors that may also contribute to this kind of result. If you're eating a handful of blueberries a day, but still pouring 4 teaspoons of salt on your fried eggs and fries every morning, it's not going to have the same effect)
Lowering 'bad' cholesterol and reducing blood pressure (where appropriate) have a knock on effect on heart health. That combined with other dietary changes can significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Now, what was that other thing they're good for?
Ah yes, brain function and memory. (ah hem) When all that free radical damage is aging your cells, that also applies to your brain cells.
There are also studies that show blueberries may have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity and therefore blood sugar control. They're fairly low in sugar compared to other fruits and improved insulin sensitivity could help to avoid things like metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, which is so incredibly prevalent these days.
So what other yummy treats can I eat to increase my antioxidant levels?
Wait for it.....Dark Chocolate. Not too much, but munch down on some good quality chockie for your health
Pecans - nuts are a good source of all things good, but not too many. They're very high in fat and should be eaten sparingly.
The aforementioned power houses, Blueberries/Strawberries - they're also relatively low calorie and taste just amazing. Try frozen for year round tastiness
Artichokes - not to everyone's taste but boiling them raises their antioxidant content by up to eight times and steaming them, even more.
Goji Berries - these are the current 'fashionable' super-food. They can be however, quite expensive to eat regularly
Raspberries - are you seeing a pattern here? Berries = good.
Kale - another currently very fashionable super-food. You can get frozen kale all year round these days. But fresh is even tastier in my opinion.
Red Cabbage - a German standard, is also delicious in a stir fry.
Beans - legumes are full of healthy stuff and very inexpensive for upping your vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake, for relatively little money. Careful with the tinned variety. They can have a lot of added salt.
Beets (beetroot) - not only good for antioxidant levels, but also great for the heart and blood and have been shown to help recovery after strenuous exercise.
Spinach - very nutritionally dense food, rich in vitamins and minerals and very low in calories. The antioxidants in spinach also have a beneficial effect on the eyes and free radical damage to the eyes.
Well, eat a full range of colours of as many fruits and vegetables as possible and keep the processed foods to a minimum.
Chuck a hand full of frozen Blueberries and strawberries in your morning smoothie, sprinkle a handful of Blueberries on your morning bowl of cereal or just have a tub of fresh next to your desk to snack on during the day.
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