Blueberry season is upon us, and as if we needed another reason to love these sweet, bright-blue wonders, a new study published in Nutrients found that eating ½ to 1 cup of blueberries daily can cut dementia risk in at-risk middle-aged adults with insulin resistance.
Native to North America, blueberries, as we know them today, have only been in cultivation for about 100 years, although evidence suggests that they’ve been around for several millennia. In fact, wild blueberries are believed to be one of the first fruit-bearing plants discovered by early Native Americans after the last ice age. According to the American Indian Health and Diet Project, ancient American Indian tribes harvested large quantities of blueberries to be eaten fresh or dried. They were highly valued due to their convenience, versatility, and long shelf life.
Dubbed the “king of superfoods,” blueberries boast one of the most impressive nutritional profiles of all fruits. A single cup of blueberries, which holds roughly 65 to 75 normal-sized berries, contains only 84 calories, one gram of protein, four grams of fiber, and zero grams of fat. The same portion packs nearly a quarter of the daily recommended allowance (RDA) of vitamin C and a third of the RDA for vitamin K, which are both essential nutrients that play a role in a number of bodily functions. Plus, blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits and vegetables, which are known to counterbalance the effect of oxidative stress and disease-causing free radicals.
Blueberries and Memory Decline
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Several studies suggest that oxidative stress may be involved in changes in the brain that contribute to age-related degenerative neurological conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and more. But scientists have found that berries, particularly blueberries, contain high amounts of antioxidants called flavonoids, which can accumulate in specific brain regions and mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress.
While previous research looking at blueberries’ effect on brain function mostly focused on benefits for older individuals, the authors of the new study wanted to know whether these tiny but mighty fruits could help prevent cognitive decline in overweight and insulin-resistant middle-aged folks. Late-life dementia, which is defined as dementia that starts after age 65, typically develops over a period of several years, beginning at mid-life, and diabetes and obesity happen to be two of the biggest risk factors for dementia, aside from aging.
To measure blueberries’ effect on brain and cognition, researchers followed 33 prediabetic adults ages 50 to 65 experiencing mild memory decline for a 12-week period. Half of the volunteers were given a daily packet of blueberry powder equivalent to half a cup of fresh blueberries, and the other half received a placebo. At the beginning and end of the study, all participants were asked to take a series of tests assessing their learning and memory functions, mental flexibility, and self-control.
The results of the study showed that participants in the blueberry group displayed improved working memory and cognitive performance, compared to those in the placebo group. Another major finding was that supplementing with blueberries reduced fasting insulin levels, boosted fat loss, and improved metabolic functions.
To Wrap Things Up
The authors of the analysis acknowledge that the study’s sample size was an important limitation. A sample size that is too small increases the margin of error and may undermine reliability, so the researchers note that it is indispensable to reproduce these findings within a larger population. However, there is already plenty of evidence* that blueberries are incredibly healthy and nutritious for people of all ages.
You can increase your blueberry consumption by adding them fresh or frozen to smoothies, salads, breakfast cereals, and desserts, or enjoy them on their own as a sweet, on-the-go snack. Try to aim for a minimum of ½ cup of blueberries per day, although eating more is totally fine.
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