The Health Benefits of Blueberries, Explained
Here's what makes blueberries so good for you-plus, how you can incorporate them into your kitchen and skincare routine, according to experts.
There's no denying it: blueberries add a refreshing bite to any dish, drink, or snack. Flavor aside, these tart and bright fruits are packed with nutrients and provide lasting health benefits, thus earning them the well-deserved title of "superfood."
Sure, you know the basics—little blue orbs filled with juice and nutrients—but there’s so much more behind what makes a blueberry, well, a blueberry. So, let’s go straight to the ~root~ before jumping into the many (and I mean many) health benefits of blueberries.
What Are Blueberries?
One of the few fruits native to North America, blueberries are small blue or purple fruits that grow above ground on bushes.
While there are many different types of blueberries across the world, the most common variety—the one you're likely to find decorating supermarket shelves—is the highbush blueberry. The highbush blueberry comes from a flowering bush that grows small white flowers that bloom into hard green berries, and those, when ripened in the early summer months, become blueberries, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The peak season for blueberries in North America is from June to August, but due to commercial production across the globe (it's the 21st century, after all), they're now available year-round.
Blueberry Nutrition Facts
"Blueberries are one of the healthiest fruits, not only due to their high vitamin C content, but also antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber that are protective against oxidative stress," says Ella Davar, R.D., C.D.N., an integrative dietitian nutritionist in New York City. "Blueberries also contain a bioactive compound called anthocyanin," a type of antioxidant-rich flavonoid responsible for the coloring and many health benefits of blueberries. The deeper or darker the pigment, the more anthocyanins (and antioxidants) present.
In addition to antioxidants, blueberries are rich in nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, as well as vitamins C, E, and K. But if you're still wondering how many calories are in blueberries or how much fiber is in blueberries, then keep on reading. Here is the nutritional information for 1 cup of blueberries, according to the USDA:
- 84 calories
- 1 gram protein
- 0 grams fat
- 21 grams carbohydrate
- 4 grams fiber
- 15 grams sugar
Health Benefits of Blueberries
For a little sphere of a fruit, these blueberries pack a whole lot of health benefits into a small package. But now that you understand what's in a blueberry, how does that translate to your health?
Better immunity and gut health. Good news: Blueberries can help build a strong immune system. ICYMI above, blueberries are packed with anthocyanins, which are a type of flavonoid or phytochemical (aka disease-fighting compounds found in plants) known for their anti-inflammatory properties, explains Davar.
"Blueberry phytochemicals and fiber affect GI microflora (gut bacteria and microbes) which is where 60 to 80 percent of our immune system originates from," she says. And multiple studies suggest that the anthocyanins in blueberries can improve the gut microbiome by aiding good gut bacteria and, in turn, helping reduce gut inflammation and boosting overall immunity, according to the USDA. This berry is also packed with illness-fighting vitamin C and zinc (which can also improve your workout performance).
Lower blood pressure. When it comes to the health benefits of blueberries, anthocyanins surely steal the spotlight. In addition to boosting GI health and overall immunity, the anthocyanins in these berries can also lower blood pressure by improving the function of cells that regulate blood pressure, according to research published in The Journals of Gerontology. (Related: The Most Common Causes High Blood Pressure, Explained)
Support heart health. In a study by the American Heart Association (AHA), participants who ate blueberries (and strawberries, another good source of anthocyanins) three or more times during the week lowered their risk of heart attack by 32 percent. Blueberries are also filled with heart-healthy fiber, and diets rich in fiber have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA.
Help reduce risk of cancer. By now, you (hopefully) understand that blueberries are loaded with antioxidants. In fact, they're believed to have one of the highest concentrations of these disease-fighting compounds out of all fruits and veggies. Why is this important? Because antioxidants protect your body from free radicals, which include cancer-causing molecules. Research also suggests that blueberries and blueberry juice have the power to reduce DMA damage, which is a major culprit in causing and progressing cancer. (See also: The Most Antioxidant-Rich Foods to Stock Up On, Stat)
Manage diabetes. These berries are considered a perfect snack for diabetics by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) because, in addition to their aforementioned health perks, blueberries have a low glycemic index and are less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar.
Nourish skin. "The antioxidant power of blueberries has the potential to be just as effective on the skin as in the body," says Eliza Savage, M.S., R.D., author of Healing Through Nutrition: The Essential Guide to 50 Plant-Based Nutritional Sources. "That's because they're "rich in antioxidants, including flavonoids that can help calm inflammation," and, in turn, "protect cells from damage caused by stressors," explains Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologic surgeon. (More on how to use blueberries for skin, below.)
Boost brain function. Not only are blueberries a sound investment for your physical health, but they're also beneficial for your mental health. Research suggests that consumption of blueberries can slow cognitive decline, improve memory recall, and reduce depression symptoms in older populations. What's more, a study published in the Annals of Neurology found that adding at least one serving of blueberries to participants' weekly diets slowed cognitive decline in older adult women by two and a half years. Repeat: two and a half years.
Overall, blueberries are fabulous for your health. That being said, eating raw blueberries filled with large amount of fiber and acidity can be tough on sensitive stomachs, says Davar.
How to Use Blueberries
...In a face mask. As mentioned, blueberries are rich in antioxidants, which help fight inflammation and protect cells from damage that cause fine lines and wrinkles. If you want to try your hand at creating your own blueberry face mask, Dr. Stevenson recommends mashing 1/4 cup of blueberries with 1/4 cup of full-fat yogurt and applying the mixture to your face for 15-20 minutes. For a vegan alternative, you can swap in 1/2 of a small avocado and 1/3 teaspoon of honey instead. That being said, she emphasizes that eating the fruit is likely the best way to reap the many health benefits of blueberries. "Eat healthy, and your skin will get the benefits too," says Dr. Stevenson. (See also: The Best Vitamins for Glowing Skin)
...In breakfast foods. Blueberries are the backbone of breakfast foods, whether as a fruity topping on, say, oatmeal pancakes or mixed within oatmeal. They're also a great low-sugar alternative to traditional syrup, says Savage. "You can make a homemade blueberry syrup by heating 1/2 to 1 cup of mashed blueberries in a saucepan over medium until it gels. For an extra fiber punch, add a tablespoon or two of chia seeds." (Looking for more ways to branch out from the breakfast basics? These Blueberry Breakfast Bars are a good place to start.)
...In salads. Whether included in a Chopped Chicken Salad, Lavender and Basil Summer Fruit Salad, or even mixed into a dressing like this Blueberry-Basil Dressing, there are many ways to incorporate the refreshing taste of blueberry into a salad. "If you add blueberries to your typical spinach, avocado, and chicken salad, you may boost the absorption of iron from the spinach and chicken. The vitamin C in blueberries boosts iron absorption," explains Savage.
...In baked goods and desserts. Blueberries are an ideal natural sweetener for baked goods, such as banana bread or muffins because "they're a great low-glycemic substitute for white sugar–or even 'healthier' sugar alternatives like maple syrup and honey," she says.
...In cocktails. "Adding antioxidant-rich blueberries adds a flavorful sweet punch to cocktails and can replace or reduce the nutrient-void simple syrup," says Savage, who recommends muddling a 1/2 cup of blueberries and adding to your fave cocktail. Just be sure to retain the skin since it contains most of the fruit's antioxidant and fiber content, she explains. (Related: The Foolproof Formula for Creating Your Own Cocktails)
...In smoothie bowls. Contrary to what you might hear on the nutrition ~street~, freezing blueberries does not take away their nutrition value. Quite the opposite actually, as "freezing fruit at their peak ripeness may help to better preserve the nutrients" compared to fresh berries sitting in the fridge for a week or so, explains Savage. "Aside from the Insta-worthy blue hue, blueberries add a depth of flavor, boost of fiber, and sweetness to smoothies," she says. "My favorite blend contains frozen blueberries, half a frozen banana, a handful of spinach, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, some ice, almond milk, and cinnamon. Perfection!"
For another fun and healthy treat, check out the recipe below.
Extra-licious Antioxidant Berry Smoothie Parfait
- 1 cup mixed berries (ex: blueberries and raspberries)
- An apple or banana
- 1 small beet
- 1-inch nub fresh peeled ginger
- 1 tablespoon almond butter
- 1 cup plant-based milk (flax, cashew, or almond)
- 1 tablespoon hemp, chia, or flax seeds
- 2 dates for extra sweetness (optional)
- 2-3 tablespoons yogurt or to taste (Davar recommends Greek or Bulgarian)
- Add berries, apple, beet, ginger, almond butter, milk, and seeds into a blender. Blend on a high-speed blender until smooth.
- In a small bowl or parfait, add a layer of yogurt and top with blended mixture.
Recipe courtesy of Ella Davar.