Blueberries may be small in size, but they pack a powerful punch when it comes to health and nutrition. They've earned superfood status because they're low in calories, fat-free, high in fibre, rich in nutrients and laden with powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Berries outshine most fruits when it comes to antioxidants. In fact, one study that ranked the antioxidant capacity of foods ranked wild blueberries as the leader of the pack. Blueberries get their vibrant blue colour from a group of phtyochemicals called anthocyanins, which may help guard against cataract, glaucoma, peptic ulcers and certain cancers, including colon and ovarian cancer.
Blueberries' benefits don't stop there. Recently studies have shown that eating blueberries on a regular basis may help lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease as well as protect from heart disease by boosting HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.
According to Canada's Food Guide, a serving of blueberries is ½ cup (125 ml). Here's the nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) of fresh blueberries:
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
Blueberries are one the few fruits native to North America. There are over 30 species of blueberries, with plants ranging in size from less than 30 cm to over 2 metres in height. The size of the fruit can also vary; some plants produce berries the size of peas while others produce blueberries the size of marbles. Blueberries belong to the genus Vaccinium and are related to the other popular berries, including bilberries and cranberries.
Blueberries have a few hallmark traits that are hard to miss, including their dark blue colour, their delicate flesh filled with tiny seeds and their matt appearance that is the result of a natural thin waxy coating.
Locally grown fresh blueberries are available in Canada during the summer months from July to September.
When buying fresh blueberries, look for ones that are a deep blue colour with firm flesh. Give a soft shake to a container of fresh blueberries to gauge their freshness -if they roll around freely they are fresh. If they're stuck to the bottom, or to each other, they're probably past their prime.
Avoid buying blueberries that are crushed or damaged, as this means they are spoiled, or close to it. Fresh blueberries should smell slightly sweet and be free from any mold or mildew.
Frozen blueberries are readily available throughout the year. Frozen blueberries shouldn't be clumped together, as this is an indication that they have thawed and been refrozen.
Before storing fresh blueberries, quickly pick through them and remove any that are crushed or damaged, as this can cause other berries in the carton to spoil more quickly. Store unwashed fresh berries in a shallow container in the fridge, loosely covered. Properly stored fresh blueberries will keep up to one week.
If you have an abundance of fresh blueberries, consider freezing some for use later in the year. See instructions below for preparation instructions.
Fresh blueberries require very little preparation. To prepare, simply place them in a bowl of cool water and rinse off any dirt or dust; gently drain in a colander and pat dry with a paper towel.
To freeze fresh blueberries, wash and dry and then place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in the freezer until frozen; remove berries from baking sheet and transfer to an airtight container or resealable bag where they'll keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
For optimal flavour, some cookbooks suggest bringing blueberries to room temperature before serving.
When adding blueberries to batter, such as muffins or pancakes, add them at the very end and gently fold them in with a wooden spoon to prevent them from getting crushed. You might consider gently coating berries with a light dusting of flour; this will help them hold their shape and prevent them from bleeding into the batter.
While blueberry pie and blueberry cobbler are summertime favourites, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy these little gems. From soups and sauces to salads, blueberries are surprisingly versatile. Try some of the following suggestions to boost your antioxidant intake from blueberries.
Healthy ways to enjoy
- Add colour to your morning meal by adding a handful of fresh blueberries to your favourite cereal.
- Start your day with an antioxidant-rich blueberry smoothie. Click here for a recipe.
- Is there a tastier breakfast than blueberry pancakes? We think not! Lightly coat blueberries in flour before adding them to pancake batter to prevent them from bleeding and turning the batter blue.
- Add a handful of fresh blueberries to a spinach salad. They taste especially good with toasted almonds and thinly sliced red bell peppers.
- Beat the heat by enjoying a nutritious cold berry soup made with fresh blueberries, strawberries, low-fat yogurt and pure fruit juice. Get my recipe!
- Top off a summer barbecue by serving grilled meat with blueberry chutney made with blueberries, apples and orange rind (see recipe).
- Make your own blueberry shake by blending 1 cup (250 ml) low-fat or soy milk, ½ cup (125 ml) fresh or frozen blueberries and 1 tsp grated fresh ginger.
- Enjoy an antioxidant-rich snack by topping a bowl of low-fat yogurt with fresh blueberries and a sprinkle of ground flaxseed.
- Add nutrition and colour to your favourite muffin or quickbread recipe by adding 1 cup (250 ml) of washed blueberries.
Did you know?
- Despite its negative environmental impact, acid rain has actually stimulated the growth of blueberries in some areas of Canada by reducing the pH level of the soil.
- British Columbia produces 95% of the Canadian supply of cultivated blueberries, which amounts to more than 9 million kilograms of blueberries per year!
- Blueberries weren’t cultivated until the beginning of the 20th century, becoming commercially available in 1916.