- Researchers from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that consuming one cup (26 grams) of blueberries daily increased an individual’s heart health. It also improved markers associated with metabolic syndrome, a condition that raises risk for heart disease and other health problems such as Type 2 diabetes and stroke. The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- While those who consumed 26 grams of blueberries showed improvements in vascular function, there were no indications of improvement from participants who consumed a lesser quantity.
- The study was conducted on 115 participants during a six-month period. Participants were randomly designated one of three daily dosages: 26 grams of freeze-dried blueberries, 13 grams of freeze-dried blueberries, or a placebo powder. The study was funded by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
For those who enjoy blueberries, there is no reason to feel blue about an overindulgence. This new study shows that after six months, anthocyanin, the phytochemical responsible for making blueberries blue, significantly improves markers of vascular function, including endothelial function and arterial stiffness. The improvement reduces the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.
During the study, participants were asked to limit consumption of other anthocyanin-rich foods to once a week in order to keep blueberries as the control source of the phytochemical.
These noteworthy findings are not, however, groundbreaking. Other studies have been conducted to understand the relationship between food and metabolic syndrome. A study published in 2017 in the National Library of Medicine found that not only was “fruit consumption ... positively associated with HDL-cholesterol” but that fish and yellow-green vegetables also were connected to reduced risks of metabolic syndrome.
Similarly, a study conducted by researchers at King’s College London showed eating 200 grams (about one cup) of whole, wild blueberries each day reduced the risk for cardiovascular disease by 20% through lower blood pressure. The positive effects that blueberries had on participants’ systolic blood pressure were similar to individuals who take medications for the condition.
As heart disease is the number one cause of death in America, and stroke another leading contributor, these studies show that blueberries might have an even bigger role in the American diet. But it seems that even without these studies, consumers already had an inkling that consuming large quantities would be beneficial for their health.
Blueberry consumption per person in North America grew almost 50% between 2010 and 2015, according to the North American Blueberry Council. This increase pales in comparison to statistics from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council that shows blueberry consumption has increased by 599% from 1994-2014. The council predicts that consumption in 2019 will hit a staggering 940 million pounds.
In dollar terms, Nielsen translates this to $1.3 billion for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 29, 2018. Fresh blueberry dollar sales were up 8.8% compared to the prior year, marking the third year in a row that dollar sales increased. Part of that sales jump, the data found, has to do with the fact that the average unit price for fresh blueberries in 2018 was 5.8% more than in 2017.
Consumers’ love of blueberries doesn’t just stem from their heart health benefits because it has not been a primary focus for marketing the fruit. For years, blueberries have been marketed as anti-oxidant powerhouses that are linked to decreasing cholesterol and the risk of Alzheimer’s.
The popularity of the fruit could further increase if marketers add heart-health to the mix. Already, there is a general consensus that these little berries pack a big punch when it comes to health. All retailers will have to do is put these fruits in a prime location in the store, while brands could update their packaging to further tout the health benefits.