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6 Health Benefits Of Blueberries Explained

Blueberries pack a powerful nutrition punch and can help reduce cholesterol, boost brain and metabolic health, improve gut function, and regulate blood glucose.

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These popular little berries find their way into many daily routines. Added to a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt or as part of an afternoon smoothie, they are sweet and easy to eat. But most importantly, they pack a powerful nutrition punch. While we enjoy them for their flavor, they provide a plethora of health benefits for us too. This article will review some of the benefits you may get from including blueberries in your meals and some easy ways to include them in your diet.

Blueberries are native to North America and have been grown in the wild for over 10,000 years. Native Americans understood their promise and used them for many medicinal purposes.

There are two main types of blueberries, highbush and lowbush.

  • Highbush blueberries are cultivated, or farmed, and are grown in the US, Canada, Mexico, and South America. Highbush blueberries are what you find in your local grocery store and are available throughout the year. They have been grown commercially for the last 110 years.¹,²
  • Lowbush blueberries are grown in the wild on bushes that are low to the ground, hence the name. These wild blueberries are smaller than those that are cultivated. Because they are grown in a cold climate, they are hardy, resilient, and able to withstand a fair amount of stress. All this stress helps increase their antioxidant content.³ Wild blueberries are grown primarily in Maine and Canada. Their season is short and they are harvested in July and August. Most wild blueberries are frozen or freeze-dried as soon as they are harvested which preserves their flavor and nutritional profile.³

Whether fresh or frozen, farmed or wild, blueberries pack a powerful nutrition punch.

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Are Blueberries Healthy?

Blueberries are one of the most nutrient-dense fruits available. They have become a sort of “superfood” in the nutrition world and much of their popularity is due to their rich antioxidant content.

Additionally, significant research over the last few decades has shown the impact they can have on our metabolic and brain health.⁴ There is much to love about blueberries though, so let’s dive in.

Nutritional Content of Blueberries

1 cup of raw blueberries contains:⁵

Calories - 85

Fat - 0.5 grams

Carbohydrates - 21.8 grams

Sugars - 14.9 grams

Fiber - 3.6 grams

Protein - 1.1 grams

Vitamin C 14.6 mg ((24% DV)

Vitamin K - 29 mcg

They are lower in sugar than other fruits and are low on the glycemic index with a value of 53.

Blueberries are rich in polyphenols. They include flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are found primarily in the skin of the berry and are responsible for the deep bluish-purple color. These plant compounds have strong antioxidant effects.⁶ 

1. Antioxidant Benefits

Those colorful polyphenols are what provide the antioxidant power of the berry. 

Antioxidants help reduce inflammation and the harmful effects of oxidation throughout our bodies. We’ll talk more about inflammation below, but chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, GI issues, and more.⁷

Antioxidants protect us from a variety of harmful environmental elements. Things like pollution, smoke, and radiation cause oxidation and free radicals to form, causing damage to our cells. This damage makes us more susceptible to diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

It's similar to how rust forms on an iron railing. If the railing isn't fully protected, little chips in the coating start to oxidize which causes rust to build up and eventually the railing to weaken.

Blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant capacities of all fruits. This high antioxidant capacity helps reduce oxidative stress that contributes to aging and chronic disease.⁸,⁹

2. Cholesterol

Blueberries are rich in fiber, including soluble fiber which helps keep our cholesterol levels in check. Soluble fiber works by pulling cholesterol out of your bloodstream preventing plaque buildup. A higher fiber intake is associated with lower total and LDL cholesterol levels and higher HDL, or good cholesterol levels.¹¹

A recent study found eating blueberries daily improved HDL cholesterol and vascular function. The researchers estimated that 1 cup of blueberries every day could provide a 12 - 15% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.¹²

3. Blood Pressure

Eating blueberries may also help reduce blood pressure. Research indicates blueberries seem to help improve blood flow and may help relax blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.

A study of postmenopausal women with pre-hypertension or stage-1 hypertension found that daily blueberry consumption reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure while another study found people with high intakes of polyphenols had a 31% reduced risk of developing hypertension compared to those who had the lowest intake.¹³,¹⁴

A recent study at King’s College London found that a concentrated blueberry drink containing 200g (about 1 cup) of blueberries daily over a month reduced systolic blood pressure and improved blood flow.¹⁵

More research and longer-term studies are needed to fully understand how blueberries may help with blood pressure control, but many attribute the effects to their high anthocyanin content. 

4. Brain Health

Blueberries are probably best known for their potential impact on brain health. Research has shown the flavonoids in berries have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the brain which has been shown to help improve memory and delay cognitive aging. 

One of the largest epidemiologic studies available was the first to really look at the effects of different foods on brain health. The Nurses Health Study followed over 120,000 women over a 20 - 25 year period. They found that women who had the highest intake of blueberries and strawberries had the slowest rates of cognitive decline.¹⁶

Since then, a wide body of additional research has looked at the effect that various forms of blueberries have on a variety of cognitive tests in adults and children. Improvements in memory and cognitive functioning continue to be seen and research is ongoing.¹⁷,¹⁸

5. Support Gut Health

Having a healthy gut can help us feel good and improve our overall health. To keep our gut healthy and in balance, we need to eat a variety of foods that are rich in fiber and probiotics. These nutrients work together to keep our GI tract in balance.

Foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut are rich in probiotics or healthy bacteria. These healthy bacteria do a number of things for us but most importantly they keep harmful bacteria away. They also help us digest food and make some vitamins including vitamin B12 which gives us energy, and vitamin K which helps our blood clot. They also keep our immune system functioning.

To help the bacteria do their work, we need to feed them. This is where prebiotics come into play. They are found in fibrous foods including blueberries. The fiber gets broken down and provides food for healthy bacteria in our lower GI tract.

In addition to their prebiotic effect, the polyphenols found in blueberries may also have an important role in increasing the beneficial bacteria in the gut and help reduce inflammation.¹⁹

6. Supports Blood Sugar Control

Blueberries may help improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control. While they contain about 15 grams of sugar, they are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index.

But that is only part of the story. What seems to have the most impact on blood sugar and insulin levels are the anthocyanins. They help reduce inflammation in the GI tract which helps reduce insulin resistance.²⁰

Eating blueberries may also help reduce belly fat. Too much fat around your middle section can increase your risk of insulin resistance.²¹

A recent study found people who ate blueberries with their meals had improved blood glucose and insulin levels 3 hours after the meal. They also had improved HDL and total cholesterol levels compared to those who had a placebo.²²

Do Blueberries Spike Blood Sugar

Despite their carbohydrate content, blueberries are low in sugar and high in fiber and may help stabilize blood sugar and help reduce post-meal blood glucose spikes. They are high in soluble fiber which may be responsible for part of the effect, but some research also suggests it may be due to their high polyphenol content as well. 

A small study that looked at middle age adults found that adding 1 cup of wild blueberries to breakfast resulted in reduced post-meal blood glucose and insulin levels.²³

Another small, short-term study found reduced glucose levels immediately after eating 1 cup of blueberries along with a slice of white bread compared to just white bread. Insulin levels were significantly reduced 2 hours after eating the blueberries and bread as well, suggesting they may also help improve insulin sensitivity.²⁰

A great way to see how blueberries affect you is to monitor your Signos CGM to see how you respond to adding them to your meals. 

FAQ

Do blueberries reduce belly fat?

There is some evidence that increased intake of blueberries may contribute to less belly fat and help support weight maintenance over time.²¹,²⁴

Do blueberries help you sleep?

This is another benefit of eating blueberries. All those polyphenols may have a role in helping you get some shut-eye. By improving blood flow to the brain and decreasing inflammation, these nutrients may be able to help you get a more restful night of sleep. 

What happens if you eat blueberries every day?

Adding a cup of blueberries every day is a great way to support your health. Eating them daily may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, support your weight, help improve insulin sensitivity, support a healthy GI tract and digestion, and may help support brain health. Enjoy them in addition to a variety of other colorful fruits and vegetables to get a full variety of nutrients. 

Are frozen berries as good as fresh blueberries?

Freezing blueberries locks in their nutrients, including the oh-so-powerful polyphenols. Keep in mind that the longer they are stored and any exposure to light or oxygen will diminish their nutritional content over time. It is best to use frozen blueberries within 6 months of freezing. 

Are dried blueberries okay to eat?

Dried berries are also good. Heat-dried berries do lose some of their antioxidant capacity during heating, so you may not get quite as much bang for your buck but they are still a great source of polyphenols. 

Freeze-dried berries on the other hand retain most of the polyphenols found in fresh berries. Many commercially available blueberry powders use freeze-dried berries. Adding a scoop to a smoothie or shake is a great way to get an extra boost of polyphenols. 

The benefits of eating blueberries are many and research is ongoing to understand all their potential. 

There really is little downside to enjoying a delicious cup of blueberries and so many different ways you can include them in your diet. Add them to yogurt, blend them in a smoothie, toss them in a salad or even mix them into a grain bowl for an added antioxidant boost. 

Fresh, frozen, or dried, blueberries or blueberry powder are a great addition to your diet and will help support your metabolic health.

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References

  1. U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. Where Blueberries Grow. Accessed October 2, 2022.  https://blueberry.org/about-blueberries/where-blueberries-grow/
  2. USDA. Celebrating Blueberries Centenial. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/06/28/celebrating-highbush-blueberrys-centennial
  3. The University of Main Cooperative Extension. Maine Wild Blueberries. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://extension.umaine.edu/blueberries/factsheets/quality/wild-blueberry-concentrations-antioxidants-vitamins-and-minerals/
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About the Author

Laura is an award-winning food and nutrition communications consultant, freelance writer, and recipe developer.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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