Are blueberries that special?

Just in time for summer blueberry season, a study that touts the miracle benefits of blueberries! What A Coincidence!

According to the blog on the Blueberry Council Website, you’ve now got a reason to eat blueberries every single day. Eating a daily cup of blueberries for 6 months was linked to improvements in heart health risk factors for adults with metabolic syndrome.

Why do this research? Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, biologically active flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables. They give fruits and vegetables rich orange-red and blue colors. They’re especially concentrated in berries — all berries, not just blueberries — and intake of anthocyanins is linked to lower risk for heart disease.

The Rest of the Story

Of course, there are a few details to consider. The people in the study were obese older adults. Sadly, they didn’t get to eat fresh blueberries every day. Instead, they were given packets of freeze-dried blueberry powder, which was calculated to be the equivalent of fresh blueberries. They could put the powder in smoothies or add to yogurt. Banana toast sprinkled with blueberry powder was one suggestion. Hmm, hadn’t thought of that. Plus it would mean now these people are eating more smoothies, yogurt and bananas. Could yogurt or bananas have impacted the study results? Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh here’s another major wrinkle. The subjects were instructed to AVOID all other foods rich in anthocyanins. Why? It’s not that anthocyanins in blueberries are better than anthocyanins in blackberries, strawberries, currants, grapes, oranges, plums or red cabbage (to name just a few other sources). The study was funded by The Highbush Blueberry Council. You want to promote currants or red cabbage, get your own study.

Lots of lab measurements were done before and after the blueberry eating period. At the end of the study, some lab measurements improved slightly. There was a small increase in HDL for blueberry powder eaters, some improvement in vascular function, but no improvement in insulin resistance or blood glucose.

Would these changes lead to actual better health and less heart disease? That was not measured. It’s a major problem with all studies like this: the lab values don’t mean much if actual health didn’t improve.

Of course the conclusion was that blueberries are amazingly beneficial and you should eat them every day. But in fact the real focus was anthocyanins. In this study, they all came from blueberry powder, but you can get them from lots of other fruits and vegetables. If you want to take advantage of suspected health benefits of these flavonoids, eat more berries of all types, more grapes, cranberries, oranges, red cabbage, red onion, red radishes, red leaf lettuce. By the way, red wine is also a source of anthocyanins.

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