Blueberries are among the nutrient-rich foods being studied by UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center investigators exploring the link between disease and nutrition. Dieticians there say as little as a cup a day can help prevent cell damage linked to cancer.
Why are blueberries considered healthful? They're full of antioxidants, flavonoids and other vitamins that help prevent cell damage. "Antioxidants protect cells by stabilizing free radicals and can prevent some of the damage they cause," says Laura Newton M.A.Ed., R.D., an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Free radicals, atoms that contain an odd number of electrons and are highly reactive, can cause cellular damage, one of the factors in the development of cancer; many believe a diet filled with fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk. "Studies suggest that antioxidants may help prevent the free-radical damage associated with cancer," says Newton, a licensed dietician who often works with cancer patients.
Blueberries also are rich in vitamin C, which helps the immune system and can help the body to absorb iron. “Vitamin C also helps to keep blood vessels firm, offering protection from bruising,” Newton says.
Blueberry juice and other products may be nutritious but often contain less fiber than the whole fruit, and added sugar or corn syrup may decrease their nutritional value. Consuming fresh, raw blueberries provides the most benefits; the average serving size of raw blueberries is one cup, which contains about 80 calories.
Blueberry season is in full swing, and now is the perfect time to stock up on this delicious, nutritious fruit from farms located here in Alabama. “They can be frozen, so store some in the freezer to enjoy year round,” says Newton. “To freeze blueberries, put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Freeze them and then transfer to an airtight bag or container and store. Rinse them with water prior to using.”