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Sheila's Nutrition Digest Vol 15 - Superfoods for Athletes Series: Blueberries
By:  Sheila Kealey   (2007/07/25)

"Superfoods" is a popular tem these days, coined to define foods dense in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds that keep plants healthy and help protect them from disease, and studies are revealing that eating a diet with plenty of phytochemical-rich foods may benefit humans as well, by helping protect us from the ravaging effects of free radicals, inflammation, and other factors that may compromise our health, immunity, and athletic performance.

In this series, I'll cover a variety of foods with healing properties, and give you tips on how to incorporate these foods into your daily meals. Articles are adapted from our cookbook Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor.

I'll start with a seasonal favourite . . .



This richly flavored berry will add brilliant color to many dishes. Abundant in vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, and low in calories, blueberries are also nutritional powerhouses. Research labs have associated many health benefits with the protective compounds found in blueberries. Blueberries may help prevent cancer and other diseases caused by free radical damage; reverse some of the age-related deficits in cognitive and motor function; promote urinary tract health; reduce the build up of "bad" (LDL) cholesterol that contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke; and improve eyesight and help ease eye fatigue. These findings are preliminary but contribute to the growing amount of research showing us how important it is to eat our fruits and vegetables!

Researchers have ranked blueberries among the top foods that can give you the biggest antioxidant boost for your bite. Antioxidants are important since they fight harmful free radicals, which can damage a wide variety of functions and internal processes, causing cellular and DNA damage believed to contribute to aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Anthocyanin (the pigment that makes the blueberries blue) is thought to be responsible for this major health benefit. Because endurance exercise can increase oxygen utilization from 10 to 20 times over the resting state (which can increases the generation of free radicals), athletes should do what they can to minimize this potential damage through proper nutrition.

LOOK FOR firm, plump berries with smooth skin that is deep-purple blue to blue-black. You may notice a dusty white "bloom" which is the berry's natural protection from the sun and a sign of freshness. Choose containers without wet spots or staining, and be sure to discard any soft or crushed berries.

STORE berries unwashed in your refrigerator in the original container or in a shallow pan lined with paper towels. They are best eaten within 1 or 2 days, but can keep for up to a week.

TO PREPARE berries, place in a strainer and gently spray with cool water, pat dry, and enjoy!

WILD BLUEBERRIES are smaller than the cultivated variety and have a chewy dense texture and intense flavor. They are considered more nutritious, since ounce for ounce they have more skin (where most of the blue-red color pigments reside). This means that wild blueberries contain more anthocyanins (disease-fighting antioxidants), but you may also end up with blue lips! Unless you live in Maine or Eastern Canada, you may not be able to eat fresh wild blueberries, but you can certainly enjoy the convenience of frozen wild blueberries (most frozen blueberries are the wild variety).

Keep a Constant Supply . . .

Stock your freezer with frozen blueberries, so you can conveniently pour out the amount you need any time.

  •  Choose frozen berries that are loose and not clumped together. Use thawed berries within 3 days. Because commercially frozen berries are prewashed, there is no need to rinse them.
  •  For cooked dishes, you don't need to thaw berries, just lengthen the cooking time a few minutes.
  •  CANNED BLUEBERRIES are another convenient option. Look for berries that are canned in water or juice.


Delicious Desserts

  • Layer yogurt and blueberries in wine glasses and top with crystallized ginger
  • Spoon over frozen yogurt or regular yogurt
  • Add to fruit salads
  • Use in pies, cakes, quick breads, or crisps
  • Pile in a cantaloupe half and top with yogurt

Berry Good Breakfasts and Post-Workout Snacks

  •  Toss blueberries on breakfast cereal
  •  Drop blueberries onto whole-wheat pancakes just before flipping
  •  Mix frozen berries into hot oatmeal
  •  Toss into homemade muffin batter or a lowfat muffin mix
  •  Blend frozen berries into a shake. Try this version to get you started . . .
Blueberry Breakfast Shake
1 cup frozen unsweetened blueberries
1 medium banana
1 cup 1% milk
1 tbsp. sugar (or less to taste)
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

PER SERVING: 350 calories,10 g protein, 73 g carbohydrate, 3 g fat (2 g sat), 10 mg cholesterol,
8 g fiber, 126 mg sodium, 870 mg potassium, and 310 mg calcium.

This article was adapted from Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor by Sheila Kealey, Vicky A. Newman, and Susan Faerber. Copyright 2006 Regents of the University of California.

Read more of Sheila's Nutrition Digest Series here.

Interesting Reading. . .
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