While it’s berry season, stock the freezer with bags of berries. Why? Haven’t you heard? Blueberries are a “Super Food”.

As a rule I don’t usually follow food trends. Following food trends and diets just confuses me. Lately though, I’ve been reading statements trumpeting the sensational health benefits of the simple blueberry. I have to admit, I’ve been intrigued. I rarely write about nutrition – I leave that to the scientists. They love to write about antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I know because I’ve been reading quite a few of their studies regarding berries.

I’ve found there are a lot of studies and scientific papers addressing¬†preventative, curative and therapeutic properties of berries. While I haven’t found any scientific papers stating, “blueberries fight cancer,”¬† many feel comfortable stating that phytonutrients (compounds found in berries) have demonstrated an ability to protect against diseases.

Science not folklore:

Dark red and purple berries contain the phytonutrient called anthocyanin. According to Mary Ann Lila, Director of Research for the Plants for Human Health Institute at the North Carolina State University, Anthocyanin pigments and associated flavonoids have demonstrated an ability to protect against a myriad of human diseases, yet they have been notoriously difficult to study with regard to human health. Anthocyanins interact with other phytochemicals, thus effects of individual components are difficult to determine. The complex, multicomponent structure of compounds makes precise assignment of bioactivity to individual pigments inconclusive.(a)

Phytonutrients(b), antioxidants(c), fiber and vitamins, all reside inside berries. While studies continue, we’ll just keep eating berries. I’ll assume the berry, in it’s entirety (the “whole-food”), is a “Super Food”.

Since almost all berries contain those finger-staining phytonutrients, I remain uncertain as to what makes the blueberry unique. Why are blueberries enjoying superstar status among berries? There are certainly studies that examine the health benefits of “berries” as a group, making little distinction between varieties. A paper from Tufts University cites preliminary findings of a variety of studies that do not singularly focus on blueberries: Reminding us that research continues into the potential health benefits of blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries and more.

We love berries of all kinds. Berries are an A-list snack ’round here. I’m buying berries now at their peak freshness and flavor from a local farm and our farmers market. And I’ve made space in our freezer to save some of the sweetness of Summer for the Winter months.

(a)Mary Ann Lila

(b)The term “phyto” originated from a Greek word meaning plant. Phytonutrients are certain organic components of plants, and these components are thought to promote human health. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and teas are rich sources of phytonutrients.

(c)Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radical damage may lead to cancer. Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals and may prevent some of the damage free radicals might otherwise cause. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins C, E, and A, and other substances.

American Society for Nutrition, 2008, health benefits of nutrients in berries and other foods.

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