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Culinary importance and health benefits of blueberries

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Blueberries are a flowering shrub so-called because they produce berries of a bluish-purple hue. These berries have a small diameter of 5-16 milimeters and they spot a flared crown at one end. Blueberries are common of two types: highbush and lowbush blue berries.

The lowbush blueberries contain remarkably more antioxidants than the high bush berries. Blueberries, like other types of berries, are low in calories and packed full of other nutrients. Vitamins in blue berries are predominantly vitamins C and K with minerals such as manganese and potassium.

Dietery fiber is located mainly under the skin of the fruit of the blue berries made up of 85 percent water and 15 grams of carbohydrates. These all make blueberries low calory, low carbohydrate and nutrient-dense fruits packed with several health benefits.

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Health benefits of blueberries
1. Antioxidant/healing properties of blueberries
Blueberries have the highest concentration of antioxidants among common fruits and vegetables consumed by man. The major forms of antioxidants in blueberries are certain polyphenols, which belong to the flavonoids.

Anthocyanins are the most frequently encountered group that carries out most of the antioxidant functions of berries.
Antioxidants are compounds that donate one electron to free radicals in order to stabilize them and prevent damage to cells and their structures by oxidative stress. These damaged cells can lead to premature aging and severe diseases.

2. Prevention of cancer
DNA in the cell nucleus is one of those compounds that free radicals frequently attach themselves to and damage. Damage to DNA by free radicals occurs always in the body daily. Research has shown that these damaged DNA leads to such diseases as cancer. Blueberries being rich in antioxidants, if consumed regularly, can supply enough antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals and prevent oxidative stress damage of DNA and prevent cancer.

Prevention of damage to cholesterol by blueberries
Oxidative damage of bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol has been implicated as a risk factor in the causation of heart disease. The antioxidant anthocyanins in blueberries have also been found to reduce oxidative stress damage of cholesterol. As a result of this effect, blueberries have been declared as being good for the heart and have been included in the list of heart-healthy foods.

Blood pressure-lowering effect of blueberries
Blueberries have a significant blood pressure-lowering effect on those with high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also a major risk factor for heart disease. Researchers have found out that consuming 50 grams of blueberries daily has shown an approximately 6% reduction in blood pressure.

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Prevention of heart disease
The lowering effect of blueberries on the blood pressure and its ability to reduce the damage of cholesterol, both combine to reduce the risk factors in the causation of heart disease. There is ongoing research to prove that anthocyanins can also directly lower the risk of heart attacks in those who are the highest consumers of blueberries in comparison with those who consume lower amounts.

Anti-diabetic effects of blueberries
Antocyanins in blueberries have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. Blueberries themselves only provide a small amount of glucose to the circulation.

Maintaining brain function and improving memory
Antioxidants in blueberries have been shown to prevent oxidative stress damage in the brain and prevent negative brain function. Anthocyanins also prevent the aging process of the brain. They do this by acting on aging nerves and improvements in brain function markers in those who consume blueberries. Also, delay in mental aging have been linked with consumption of blueberries.

There are several health benefits of blueberries that I have not even mentioned but even before I discuss more, I will like to recommend that as much as possible, every individual should introduce blueberries to their diet because the benefits are too numerous and powerful to ignore. With increased knowledge of antioxidants, it is becoming clearer that these compounds may be number one in the management, prevention and treatment of diseases. Like other berries, blueberries can be found in shops like Shoprite and Spar.

In next week’s edition of the Guardian Newspaper, we shall consider certain types of menu in which blueberries can be incorporated.

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