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On call: The buzz about blueberries

Q. I’ve always enjoyed fruit with my breakfast cereal. Over the past year, my family seems to have shifted from bananas and strawberries to a steady diet of blueberries “because they’ll keep you healthy.” I love blueberries, but I do miss variety. So I want to know if blueberries really are good for our health.

A. Native to North America, blueberries have been popular here ever since our earliest days. Their flavor and color justify this popularity, but as people have become interested in the health benefits of “functional foods,” blueberries have become as prized for their chemicals as their taste — and production has soared to over 200 million pounds a year.

Like other deeply colored fruits, blueberries are rich in anthocyanins and other natural pigments in the flavonoid family. The buzz about blueberries stems from the fact that these flavonoids are powerful antioxidants. According to one widely used testing method, blueberries pack three times more antioxidant power than spinach or oranges. And while antioxidants may be driving the blueberry craze, the fruit also scores well in terms of its traditional nutrients. A 100-gram (3½-ounce) portion of fresh blueberries is low in calories (56), fat (0.4 grams), and sodium (6 milligrams), but high in vitamin C (13 mg), vitamin A (100 international units), and fiber (2.7 grams).

Scientists can tell us a lot about the chemical composition of blueberries, but they can’t say if these phytochemicals actually contribute to better health. And even if eating blueberries does prove beneficial, we’re a long way from knowing what “dose” would be best.

For now, it’s fair to say that blueberries look great on paper, and if they taste great on your cereal, don’t rock the family breakfast boat. Above all, no one in your family should rely on a handful of blueberries to counteract unwise dietary choices. Instead, make blueberries and other deep-colored fruits and vegetables part of a balanced dietary pattern. For starters, you might look under your blueberries to be sure your breakfast cereal is high in fiber and potassium but low in sugar, sodium, and calories.

— Harvey B. Simon, M.D.
Editor, Harvard Men’s Health Watch

Posted by: Dr.Health

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