Blueberries: Healthy, delicious, local
Blueberries are in season in North Carolina! In fact, July is a big month for this berry: we celebrate National Pick Blueberries Day and National Blueberry Muffin Day during this month. You will find blueberries plentiful at farmer’s markets, fruit stands, and local grocers here in Richmond county from June to late July. Buying fruits and vegetables in season is also the best time to get great prices.
The most common types of commercial blueberries in our area are Rabbiteye blueberries. Other commercial types include Northern Highbush and Southern Highbush. You can also find wild blueberries that grow in piney woods. They tend to be smaller and less sweet than commercial varieties, as well as less plentiful on a bush. According to the US Highbush Blueberry Council, blueberries are native to North America and have been here for 13,000 years. In the early 1900’s, the first highbush blueberry bush was cultivated for commercial production. Nearly 1 billion pounds of blueberries are grown in North America today.
Food preservation is a great way to store blueberries to enjoy after the season is long gone. The most common ways of preserving blueberries are freezing, making spreads, syrups, and canning for jams, jellies, and preserves. Our friends and authors of So Easy to Preserve from Georgia Extension Service suggest that you use proven recipes for preserving blueberries. Since blueberries don’t continue to ripen after picked, it is recommended to use plump ripe berries that are light blue to blue-black in color.
Early Native Americans recognized the health benefits of blueberries and used them for medicinal purposes and as natural flavoring. Today, blueberries are certified as heart-healthy through the American Heart Association (AHA)® Heart-Check Food Certification Program. Foods that have been certified by the AHA have the distinctive red heart with white check mark on the label.
Blueberries are nutrient dense. According to Megan Ware, RDN,LD in her article, “Everything You Need to Know About Blueberries”, A 1-cup serving of blueberries contains 4 grams of fiber, 24 percent of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin C, 36 percent of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin K, and 25 percent of the daily recommended amount of Manganese. Blueberries are about 85 percent water, and a cup of blueberries only contains 84 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates.
Blueberries also contain antioxidants. Antioxidants protect our bodies from unstable molecules called free radicals that can damage our cells and contribute to aging and diseases. The main antioxidant compounds belong to a family of polyphenols antioxidants called flavonoids. According to PubMed.com from the National Library of Medicine, in a study of 168 people that drank 34 ounces (1 liter) of a mixed blueberry and apple juice daily. After four weeks, oxidative DNA damage due to free radicals was reduced by 20 percent.
Research has also shown that blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome. In a 2010 clinical trial published in the National Library of Medicine, forty-eight obese men and women were provided freeze dried blueberry beverage daily for 8 weeks. Screenings were done at 4 and 8 weeks. It was found that the blueberry-supplemented group had a decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Also, the supplemented group had greater decreases in plasma oxidized LDL and serum malondialdehyde(MDA), an end-product of cell damage caused by lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation is the process in which free radicals “steal” electrons from the lipids in cell membranes, resulting in cell damage.
Blueberries are tasty and healthy! Now, is a great time to explore new ways of enjoying this fruit. To learn more about the benefits of a healthy diet and incorporating physical activities into your daily routine contact Cheri Bennett at [email protected] .
The Richmond County Cooperative Extension Office helps provide research-based education and technology to the producers and citizens of this great county. The office is located at 123 Caroline St. in Rockingham, and can be reached at 910-997-8255 or richmond.ces.ncsu.edu for more information.
Cheri Bennett is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for the Richmond County Cooperative Extension.