Blueberries are increasingly popular as more consumers reach for a fruit that is high in antioxidant content and long on taste. Antioxidants shield the body's cells from the plundering effects of free radicals. These rogue molecules corrupt healthy cells--a process that ultimately under lies cellular aging.
Blueberries are among the fruits and vegetables highest in antioxidant capacity, according to tests developed by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), says Ronald L. Prior, chemist with the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock.
"Our research on aging shows that blueberry supplementation at about 1 to 2 percent of the diet may reverse short-term memory loss and improve motor skills," says James A. Joseph, physiologist at the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
The blueberry's powerful nutritional punch is likely in its antioxidants in the form of both long-established vitamins and newly defined phytochemicals (plant substances). The berries are particularly well endowed with a series of phytochemicals called anthocyanins--the source of their blue, purple, and red pigments--and proanthocyanins. The blueberry is one of the few fruits that contain so wide a spectrum of anthocyanins, which fall within a phytochemical class called flavonoids. Another class, the carotenoids, creates the orange color of carrots and pumpkins.
Naturally, the amount of nutrients in any crop may differ among varieties or may vary because of growing conditions, such as geographic location and soil content. Still, although many fruits contain only about three to six individual anthocyanins, cultivated blueberries contain about 15 on the low end, rising to about 25 in the wild type, says Mr. Prior.
In test tubes, these anthocyanins yield about 2 to 2.5 times the antioxidant power of vitamin C. The next step, now under way, is to assess the fruit's bioavailability (how well the body digests, uses, and stores a given chemical).
COPYRIGHT 2002 Vegetus Publications
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