Environmental Nutrition

Today, blueberries enjoy true star status as a favorite berry in the U.S., second only to strawberries.


The folklore

One of the few fruits native to North America, blueberries have been coveted by Native Americans for hundreds of years. Native tribes called them “star berries” for the five-point “star” at the blossom end of the berry. The berries were believed to protect children from famine, ease the pain of childbirth, and treat coughs and digestive issues. They were also a food staple, made into a jerky with meat, called sautauthig.

The facts

Blueberries are part of the genus Vaccinium, along with cranberries and lingonberries. There are more than 450 species of blueberries, which are categorized into three varieties: high bush (the most commonly cultivated), rabbiteye, and lowbush (also called wild blueberries). Colored deep blue to purple-black, blueberries range in girth from a tiny quarter inch to one inch in diameter. Wild berries tend to be more tart, while cultivated are sweeter. All blueberries are bursting with nutrition. Just one cup is packed with 36 percent DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of vitamin K, 24 percent DV of the antioxidant vitamin C, and a punch of health-protecting phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins, which give blueberries their beautiful color and antioxidant activity.

The findings

Blueberry anthocyanins benefit the brain, especially in older adults. One study showed cognitive improvement in adults who consumed the dried equivalent of one cup of fresh blueberries daily for three months (European Journal of Nutrition, 2017). Another study showed cognitive benefits in older adults at risk for dementia who supplemented with daily blueberries for 16 weeks (Nutritional Neuroscience, 2017). Eating blueberries may also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving insulin resistance in obese adults (Antioxidants, 2016).

The finer points

Fresh blueberries are at their best from May through October. Avoid those with signs of shrivel or dampness, refrigerate immediately, and eat them within 10 days. Research shows that organically grown blueberries have higher levels of phytochemicals than conventionally grown blueberries. Blueberries are also available frozen, dried, pureed, and canned. Give these tasty tots a try in salads, cereals, yogurts, or smoothies; bake them into flaky scones or quick breads; or mix them into a turkey burger adorned with blueberry ketchup!

Blueberry Salad Flatbreads Recipe
Makes 16 servings (1 slice each)

Ingredients:
2 (14.1-ounce) packages pizza dough
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon sliced red onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch black pepper
2 cups mixed baby greens
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. On floured surface, roll each piece of dough into an oblong shape, about 11-inches long. Arrange on baking sheet, poke with a fork, and bake 8 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and top each piece with 1/2 cup cheese. Place directly on oven rack and cook until crispy and melted (8-10 minutes).
  4. In bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt and black pepper. Add mixed baby greens, blueberries and red onion and toss together.
  5. Arrange salad on flatbreads, sprinkle with lemon zest, and slice.

– Recipe adapted courtesy U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

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