The Power of Blueberries (Today’s Dietitian)

Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Today’s Dietitian.
(Read the full article on the Today’s Dietitian website.)


Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, was featured in the October 2014 issue of Today’s Dietitian. The article, “The Power of Blueberries,” by Dr. Jasenka Piljac Zegarac, highlights the health benefits and phytochemical punch that blueberries provide better than any other fruit. In particular, a multitude of research illustrates the depth and breadth of the blueberry’s impacts on human health; studies suggest that blueberries can be effective against cancer, diabetes and neurocognitive diseases (like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), as well as support heart health and memory.

Dr. Mary Ann Lila, Plants for Human Health Institute director, is a world-renowned blueberry researcher who studies the bioactive compounds and health benefits of the blueberry.

Article Excerpt

Evidence shows this fruit is jam-packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals that may help prevent and slow the progression of chronic diseases.

It’s rare to encounter a client or patient who doesn’t enjoy the taste of blueberries (Vaccinium spp). But beyond their tangy sweetness and the fact you can pop them into your mouth one by one or incorporate them into many recipes, blueberries offer a wealth of health benefits.

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that research has shown are associated with cardiovascular and cognitive health and cancer and diabetes prevention. Their popularity is on the rise in North America. And the production of fresh and processed blueberries has grown steadily by an average of 20% every two years since 2008.1 Between 2005 and 2012, North America’s blueberry fields increased 74% from 71,075 to 123,635 acres. British Colombia has the most acres in cultivation, while Michigan has been a world leader in production volumes of both fresh and processed blueberries for many decades.

Nutritional Properties and Antioxidant Composition
Dietitians have stressed the importance of incorporating low-fat, fiber-rich, and nutrient-dense foods into their clients’ and patients’ diets for decades. “Everyone should be aiming to reach their recommended amount of fruits and vegetables for optimal health, and blueberries are an easy and delicious way to help you reach your goal. Just 1/2 cup is considered one serving of fruit, and they require no slicing or peeling—plus there’s no waste,” says Joanne Tehrani, RD, communications manager for the US Highbush Blueberry Council.

Blueberries are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, and folate.2 One cupful contains 14% Daily Value of fiber. Moreover, blueberries are one of the richest sources of antioxidant phytonutrients.3 Blueberries’ diverse range of phenolic compounds, such as anthocyanins, quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and chlorogenic acid, contributes to their overall antioxidant capacity.4,5 (Antioxidant capacity, measured by a chemical laboratory analysis technique called oxygen radical absorbance capacity is one of several methods that doesn’t account for bioavailability, distribution, and metabolism of a product’s ingredients.)

“Blueberries also have a rich diversity of different anthocyanin species—like 26 different anthocyanins—whereas some other berries may feature only two or three different anthocyanin species,” says Mary Ann Lila, PhD, MS, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute and a David H. Murdock distinguished professor at North Carolina State University, who has spent 18 years studying various Vaccinium species.

Get Your Blues
Wild or cultivated, blueberries have plenty of health benefits dietitians can tell clients and patients about. Their phytochemical and antioxidant makeup can help promote heart and brain health, stabilize blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, and prevent and slow disease progression. “All blueberries are in a class by themselves among fruits,” Lila says. “They contain a plethora of phytoactive compounds—anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, cinnamic and other phenolic acids, and other flavonoids—that because of their potentiating interactions, are particularly powerful interacting with human therapeutic targets to ward off chronic diseases. There are synergies and additive interactions between the phytoactive chemicals that are unusually powerful against diseases.”

Read the full article on the Today’s Dietitian website.

The Power of Blueberries
By Jasenka Piljac Zegarac, PhD
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 16 No. 10 P. 42

View other articles about Dr. Mary Ann Lila’s blueberry research: