These little blue gems are a type of wild berry native to the temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere. Many of us just know them in their frozen form because we are geographically challenged when it comes to blueberries. Though it is still very worthwhile to include these health powerhouses into your diet even if frozen, do not hesitate to experience a fresh off the bush blueberry should you ever find yourself in an area where they are cultivated. They will simply blow your socks off.
Blueberries are plentiful between July and September in areas such as New England and Canada. There are several different varieties of blueberries that differ in size and flavor profile. Which one you choose depends on your taste alone. Nutritionally they will provide you with the same benefits. They will ripen at different rates so that, if you are a true blueberry devotee, you can schedule your vacation to coincide with your favorite kind. As a rule, larger berries will be juicy and tart sporting a distinctive silvery bloom on the outside. On the other end of the spectrum, the most intensely flavorful of all will be the wild berries, much smaller in size and deep in color, bursting with amazing sweetness.
All blueberries are delicate and need to be handled carefully. Store them in a refrigerator where they will keep for several days and consume them before their skin starts to shrivel. Their flavor and texture will deteriorate quickly from that point on.
Pick Your Favorite Berry
- Highbush Blueberries: You will commonly find these at your grocery store both fresh and frozen. Some of these plants can grow as high as 12 feet in height. In areas where blueberries are cultivated, you can even find plants available at your local nursery. Many have been hybridized to produce larger size berries that seem to be more appealing to the average consumer.
- Lowbush Blueberries: These berries are often labeled as wild blueberries. They grow in small bushes no larger than 2 feet in height. Lowbush species also have much smaller berries and some Canadian growers distribute them frozen. They are wonderful for smoothies and desserts.
- Rabbiteye Blueberries: These are a kind of blueberry that only grows in the southern part of the United States. Its name comes from the pink color of the unripe berries. Someone seemed to think that they resemble the eye of an albino rabbit. These bushes are also used decoratively because the foliage turns a beautiful orange color during the Fall.
Why Should I Eat Blueberries?
No matter the variety, blueberries are a tremendously versatile fruit. They are equally delicious fresh or cooked into jams or baked goods such as muffins or even pancakes. Whichever way they are used, it seems to me that one can never go wrong with blueberries. Part of their popularity resides in their delicious flavor, but their health benefits are their real, unsung contribution. Blueberries contain an enormous amount of healthy phytonutrients. Most are antioxidants that act as potent anti inflammatory substances in the body. Most notable among them are anthocyanins and flavonols.
When blueberries are regularly included in the diet, their beneficial effects can be detected in many different parts of the body. There is a well known protective benefit to the cardiovascular system, but they have also been found to shield the neurological and digestive systems from damage. It has been observed that individuals who suffer from high blood pressure can significantly reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressures if they start consuming blueberries daily. I cannot think of a more delicious prescription and one so very easy to follow as well.
There is some concern about the amount of sugar that fruit contains. Blueberries do register a 40-53 in terms of glycemic index depending on the variety, but still fall into the “low-GI” category of foods due to their water and high fiber content. They can provide up to 4 g of fiber per cup, which helps modulate the effects of the naturally occurring sugars. Therefore, blueberries are undoubtedly helpful in overall blood sugar regulation.
Adding blueberries to the diet can be particularly beneficial to those suffering from retinal degeneration and other ocular problems. The retina is subjected to a higher than normal risk of oxidative stress. Tobacco consumption, pollution, sunlight and poor diet increase the amount of harmful free radicals in the body and can lead to serious eye disorders. Blueberries can deliver exceptionally high levels of protection against the deterioration of this organ.
With ample availability year around and a flavor that is hard to beat, everyone should aim to consume several servings of blueberries per week. If you use your imagination, they can be a delicious addition to almost any dish, from smoothies to salads, cakes and parfaits. There is no limit to how blueberries can enhance your eating experience all year round. They truly are a jewel among fruits.