If you are looking to stretch your food dollar while offering your family healthy options for desert and snacks, you can get a big bang for your buck with blueberries. Because blueberries are not one of the traditional fruits associated with Arizona, you might overlook them in the grocery store or at the farmer’s market but recent research into this kid-friendly fruit may encourage you to put a few pints in your cart.
Blueberries have long been touted as a healthy food option because of the high dose of antioxidants they offer and in recent years USDA scientists have been conducting studies into the quantifiable health benefits a diet containing blueberries might offer. Three studies published last year used blueberry supplements to track the effectiveness of the fruit as a dietary supplement in counteracting three specific health problems. The findings are promising and will lead to further research into the healing power of blueberries.
The first study was lead by Jin-Ran Chen, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas in the Medical Sciences, and looked at the effect of a diet supplemented with blueberry products on bone growth and osteoporosis. The study, which was published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, tracked differences in the bone growth of rats that ate a diet consisting of 10% blueberry powder compared to a control group who ate a normal diet. The rats who received the blueberry supplement not only showed more bone mass at the end of the observation period, but also had an increased osteoblast count, meaning their bodies were making more bone forming cells than the bodies of the other rats. The initial theory based on these results is that the polyphenols, the chemicals that make blueberries bluish purple, are helping the rats to build bigger, stronger bones. Over the long term, these findings may help in the development of programs to prevent osteoporosis and new treatment options for those affected by the disease.
The second study was published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry and looked at the correlation between blueberry supplements and cholesterol. USDA chemist Wallace Yokoyama used hamsters to prove that a diet supplemented with blueberry products has a positive effect on cholesterol. As with the other study, one group of hamsters received blueberry products as part of their diet and another group did not. The researchers found that the hamsters whose diets included blueberries had a better total plasma cholesterol score, averaging 22-27% less than the control group. Additionally, the hamsters that were eating the blueberries had almost half as much VLDL, a type of bad cholesterol, in their blood at the end of the study than their control group peers.
The third study, which was lead by Xianli Wu from the University of Arkansas Medical Center and was published in the Journal of Nutrition, used a similar process to look at the effect of blueberries on atherosclerosis in mice. Wu found that the size of atherosclerotic lesions in the aortas of the test mice were 39-58% smaller than those of the control group after 20 weeks of eating a diet supplemented with blueberries. This is the first study to show a direct link between blueberries and improvement in existing cardiovascular conditions and may lead to the development of new treatments for this disease, which is the leading cause of both heart attacks and strokes.
All three studies pave the way for additional research to be completed that will try to replicate these effects in humans and may lead to new preventative care programs and additional options for treatment of these devastating illnesses.
Convinced to give blueberries a try? Grab a pint next time you are out shopping and try out this great recipe from FillYourPlate.org for Baked French Toast recipe. Blueberries also make a great addition to a mixed berry Trifle for desert, just layer sponge cake, whip cream, and blueberries, strawberries and raspberries for a desert everyone will love. They also make a great snack for kids in the summer heat.
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