You are what you eat! This slogan has been around for decades, if not centuries, and stands to be true in all aspects of our mental and physical health. The fact is that you are in control of your health, believe it or not, and the food you choose to eat can either assist in your vitality or work against it, contributing to more disease and pain. Blueberries are one of many fruits that pack a powerful punch when it comes to your health. The little purple gems are packed full of vital nutrients and phytochemicals that can truly change your well being and health. Blueberries are just one of many fruits that possess these research supported powers, impacting overall health, sugar metabolism, mental well being, and even digestive health. Let’s pour some into a bowl and look at why I LOVE this fruit!
Blueberries have become one of my favorite fruits, consuming a cup full of these purple gems every morning for breakfast. In addition, I take a powdered formula which contains blueberries and other really beneficial fruits every night before retiring to bed. Why am I obsessed with this fruit?
To me, as a doctor, all I see is illness as every person that reaches out is in need of help and perceives illness in their body. Given this, for most, they are seeking that quick solution, the pill, the injection, surgery or otherwise to aid their failing health. While we may perceive illness and lack of health, the truth is that your body is much more than that, and capable of some pretty incredible feats. In order to help the body to heal, mend, recover and regain strength, you need to feed it properly and allow the miracle present in each of you to reveal itself.
The truth is that we all age and this aging process is directly related to inflammation, cellular function, and more specifically mitochondrial health. As your cells begin to break down, your body begins to fail on many levels. While this process is inevitable for all of us, the choices you make in regards to food and your lifestyle, can dramatically either speed up this process or slow it down.
Never underestimate the power of your body to heal and recover! It’s an incredible machine, and really a gift, to help us move through our lives. Take care of it and it will take care of you!
Blueberries; Making Choices!
Chances are, every time you walk into the grocery store, you pass right through the fruits and vegetables section. This is done for two reasons, strategically by your grocery store. First, they want you to buy those fruits and vegetables because they are perishable and if you don’t, they have to throw them away. Second, they are trying to impress upon you the importance of those fruits and vegetables when it comes to your health. Sadly, many simply walk through that section and onto others, bypassing true health benefits.
Fruits, specifically blueberries and other berries, can pack a real punch for your health. Most just look at them as something to top their yogurt with, make a smoothie with, maybe make a pie with, or put on top of their oatmeal or dry cereal. While these are all good uses, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, these berries are more than just a sweet food, going way beyond just decorating your yogurt or oatmeal in a clam that they are healthy. While this is true, the average person may put 3-4 berries on their oatmeal, yogurt, or otherwise, and that frequency may be 2-3 times per week. You start your morning off this way, which is fine, but are you going for true health benefits or just making a statement that you are doing something healthy? Keep in mind here that the recommendation is 4-6 servings of fruits per day, with an average serving of blueberries being 1/2 cup or around 100 grams. That is a far cry difference between 3-4 isolated berries placed on top of yogurt or oatmeal, and likely much less than what is prepared in the average smoothie.
Second, we are all battling at least the aging process, if not joint pain or another serious illness. If you want to eat healthy, then by all means eat healthy, but mean it! This can and does involve real commitment, some knowledge, and true application. It involves choices and routines which are established and adhered to, just as you would view brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You have to commit, make it a habit, and understand that through this new approach, you will utilize these foods, these berries, the way they were intended. Consuming 3-4 individual berries per day and saying ‘job well done’ is not likely going to cut it! This is partly why fruits, vegetables, herbs and other substances do not have a favorable reputation in the medical community. Mainly because we are not using them properly!
So, let’s commit to creating real change in our health!
It is possible and I know and believe that you can do it!
Blueberries: Powerful Foods with Incredible Potential
Why are we pushed to eat so many fruits and vegetables each day? Maybe it’s the fiber?? Well, that is part of it and a major factor, but that is not all there is to the story. Actually, it is a huge part to the story, but it goes beyond just the fiber present in blueberries, other fruits, and vegetables.
In the horse world that I tend to spend much of my time, we are encountering a major epidemic of obesity related problems, viewed as metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. The irony here is that these health problems in the horse mirror the human and our approaches to lifestyle, food, and overall health. It is a problem created by many owners, like it or not, just like metabolic issues and obesity are created by us in our own body. It’s a train that has gathered tremendous momentum in the health care industry, but it can be slowed down and even diverted to another track if you just take a different approach. Medications are palliative for this condition, both in animals and people, offering very little to the patient, and in most cases really not providing much benefit to overall health. It was in evaluating this condition in the horse several years ago, that I began to truly understand the power that lies within the blueberry and other fruits. This was also when they became a part of my daily lifestyle, in true volumes to reap benefits.
Blueberries are powerful little purple gems that pack a punch. Like other fruits, blueberries do contain a small amount of protein, a higher amount of fiber, and often an even higher amount of low-glycemic carbohydrates. They also contain some nutrient value in regards to vitamins and minerals, but generally this is negligible and just a side bonus. Their real power is present not just in the fiber but the powerful chemicals which give them their purple color and vibrancy! This is also true for the strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and other fruits. These vibrant colors are produced by phytochemicals present within the berry, called polyphenols. These polyphenols are very potent antioxidant like compounds which are produced by the plant as a means of natural defense against damage, oxidative stress, and disease. They are produced by the plant to protect it, but by ingesting them ourselves, our body reaps the same benefits!
These polyphenols, including anthocyanins, are what can truly impact your health and help your body to repair on many levels. They help your body fight oxidative stress damage, inflammation, impact our immune response, cardiovascular health, and even your digestion! Keep in mind that it is the big picture, so the anthocyanins work together with the fiber present and other nutrients present within that fruit, so just taking polyphenols is not the same. It’s about the entire fruit, the sum of the parts that is what is important!
Blueberries and Cardiovascular Health:
- Blueberries have been shown in multiple studies to impact cardiovascular health through impact on inflammation, oxidative stress, and cellular function
- In one study of obese men and women, consumption of 350 grams of fresh blueberries per day for 8 weeks resulted in a reduction of systolic and diastolic blood pressure, while also reducing the level of oxidized LDL cholesterol, all major contributors to cardiovascular disease. (1)
- In another study, consumption of 1 cup (150 grams) for 6 months improved endothelial (blood vessel) function, reduced arterial stiffness, and impacted both HDL and LDL. It was noted that 1/2 cup serving per day did not change any biomarkers! (2)
- In one study of mice with induced myocardial infarction and congestive heart failure, daily blueberry supplementation improved left ventricular wall thickening, wall remodeling, and myocardial infarction progression, increasing survival by 22%. (5)
Blueberries and Metabolism/Glucose:
- In one study, mice fed a high-fat diet along with blueberries noted an improved insulin response and reduced elevation in post-meal glucose, along with reduced fat cell death, all of which contribute heavily to inflammatory events and metabolic syndrome. (3)
- Insulin sensitivity was also noted to improve in another study in obese and insulin resistant men and women, with no other biomarker changes, but the dose was quite low at 22 grams per day. (4)
Blueberries and Cognitive Health:
- In a clinical study by the FDA, daily blueberry, spinach, or strawberry supplementation in rats with cognitive and motor deficits was noted to reverse age related brain deficits in brain and behavioral function. (6)
- A blueberry enriched diet was able to impact memory and learning function in an Alzheimer’s Disease rodent model through impact on brain-derived neuropathic factor. (7)
- Blueberry supplementation was also noted to significantly increases the clearance of beta-amyloid protein, reduces the accumulation of the beta-amyloid protein, and reduces microglial cell activation which can impact the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. (8)
Blueberries and Digestive Microbiome
- Blueberries were found to positively impact obesity and fat metabolism through alterations of the digestive microbiome in mice through an expansion of Bifidobacterial species. (9)
- Blueberry polyphenol extract was noted to positively impact the digestive microbiome, inhibited weight gain and returned fat metabolism to normal in a rodent trial using a high-fat diet to induce obesity. (10)
- Blueberry supplementation in mice on a high-fat diet demonstrated a positive change to the digestive microbiome, altered inflammatory signaling, and improved insulin function. (11)
Blueberries, Joint Pain and Joint Health:
- Daily supplementation of blueberries in a group of individuals with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis noted reduced pain, stiffness, and difficulty performing daily activities. (12)
- Dietary fruits, due to polyphenol content, are noted to exert a protective role in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. (13)
Blueberries, Your Health and the Bottom Line
The foods you choose to eat and make a part of your daily life can either help or hinder you. In today’s busy world, our food choices are not always ideal and more often dictated by desire than true need. Given the dramatic rise in obesity, cardiovascular disease, joint ailments, and cancer, it stands to reason that we need to truly evaluate what we are putting into our mouths.
Food is not just a fuel to keep you going each day, but is a substance designed to fuel and enhance your overall health. Blueberries are one of many fruits and berries that have tremendous value, but they must be consumed in the correct amounts and every day.
A habit takes 21 days to establish! Starts yours today!
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Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN
- Basu A et al. Blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome. J Nutr, 2010, July 1582-87
- DeFuria J et al. Dietary blueberries attenuates whole body insulin resistance in high fat fed mice by reducing reducing adipocyte death and its inflammatory sequelae. J Nutr. 2009, May, 1510-16
- Stull A et al. Bioactives in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity in obese, insulin-resistant men and women. J Nutr. 2010, July, 1764-68
- Ahmet I et al. Survival and cardioprotective benefits of long-term blueberry enriched diet in dilated cardiomyopathy following myocardial infarction in rats. PLoS One, 2009, Nov 4:11
- Shukitt-Hale, Blueberries and neuronal aging. Gerontology. 2012; 58:518-523