I recently made my annual purchase of cinnamon-flavored Life cereal.
I buy it for one purpose and one purpose alone: to eat with the world's best fruit. And July is prime season for it.
I've written about the world's best fruit for years... One of my earliest health essays – and my colleagues' favorite piece of all time – is "Eat This Fruit and You Might Live Forever."
I'm talking about blueberries.
Blueberries are one of the healthiest "superfoods" thanks to their anthocyanins and other antioxidants.
They're so good for you that I can imagine getting a script from my doctor to fill a pint of "blues." That would be one of the tastiest – and safest – prescriptions out there.
Blues work because they are rich in anthocyanins. These molecules are a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants fight some nasty stuff, too...
Every day, there's a battle inside your body between your army of healthy cells and damaging molecules called "free radicals." These radicals bounce around your system, trying to pull electrons off healthy pieces of your cells. Too many free radicals can lead to massive damage. They alter your proteins, fats, and even DNA. They can cause inflammation and cancer.
The trouble is, free radicals are by-products of everyday living. But we can create an excess of free radicals by eating certain foods and exposing ourselves to things like medications, air pollution, and alcohol, or even exercising too much.
Our bodies make antioxidants to fight these free radicals. They work as scavengers, seeking out and neutralizing the radicals, restoring order to the body. And we can increase our amount by eating antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries.
Blueberries offer a number of health benefits. Here are just a few ways blues help us:
- Improve digestion
- Lower cholesterol
- Slow aging
- Improve eyesight
- Reduce inflammation
- Fight cancer
- Fight urinary-tract infections
- Improve recovery from strokes
On top of that, recent research links blueberries to improving dementia.
Research from the American Chemical Society meeting this past March showed that folks with mild cognitive impairment enhanced their memory and testing word scores after 16 weeks of daily berry intake compared with a placebo.
What's more, the study included imaging studies called functional MRIs. These scans show the brain as it's working on tasks. The people who ate berries every day had significantly greater brain activity than those who didn't.
Further, a study out of Louisiana State University has shown some promising applications with blueberry extract and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It's a complex subject, but many people who experienced feelings of suicide had very low expression of a particular gene, called SKA2.
The researchers bred rats to have these similar gene expressions. Then they fed some of the mice a diet rich in blueberries... Those mice saw significant increases in SKA2 activity.
There's plenty more to investigate in this field, including how SKA2 and serotonin levels work in PTSD. But it's a promising start.
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Best Blues to Buy
If you want to get some more blues into your diet, now is the time to buy them. Picking starts in June for most of the U.S. but really hits its peak in July.
And if you want to get the most bang for your buck, look to our easternmost state... Maine.
Maine blueberries are famous for their flavor. Wild blueberries, the kind typically found in Maine, have the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any berry. They're the absolute best blueberries you can find.
Personally, I love freezing wild blueberries. And every summer, I make sure to buy two-for-one blues by the boatload. Just remember, don't wash the berries until right before eating them or the skins get soft and moldy. (This tip is true for other berries as well.)
And don't be afraid to freeze your blues. Multiple studies have shown that frozen blueberries actually have higher antioxidant levels.
The freezing process forms crystals in the berries that actually make the antioxidants easier to break down when we consume them, something called "bioavailability."
My research assistants also like to pick their own fruit. It's a fun activity to get some sun, exercise, and lots of blueberries. To find a local farm near you go to www.pickyourown.org. Whether you're buying them in a store or picking your own, look for a light silver coating. It means the berries are fresh and juicy.
Make sure to add some blues to your diet today. They're a tasty way to fight off free radicals and give your health a boost. I put blueberries on everything... chocolate ice cream, yogurt, and crushed into waffle batter. And frozen blueberries make great additions to smoothies.
Take advantage of the summertime crops to enjoy these health-boosting blues with your next meal.
What We're Reading...
- Some tips on how to grow your own blueberries.
- Something different: Where the buffalo and camels roam (video)?