Lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) provide a phenomenal 836mg of polyphenols per 100 grams fresh weight of fruit. You can usually find these in the frozen fruit section of your local grocery store. Highbush blueberries (the ones you typically find in the produce section), supply 560mg/100g by contrast. These metrics aren’t listed on backs of nutrition labels, so unless you’re a fellow food science nerd with berry varietal phytochemical indices in the back of your head, you might not be aware of this important fact.
To give some perspective, the largest single source of dietary polyphenols in the American diet, brewed coffee, contains just 100mg per cup on average. Red wine, which makes headline news every year with its resveratrol content, contains just 100mg polyphenols per glass. Even if you were to supplement a polyphenol extract like curcumin, you would still often be looking at just 100–400mg of total polyphenols in these capsules.
So in other words, the 800+ milligrams of polyphenols found in a typical serving size of wild blueberries makes for sheer ridiculous chart-topping madness, the likes of which is rarely seen outside of exotic Amazonian fruit and pungent herbs — this humble Canadian berry is wild like that.
- Wild blueberries are the state fruit of Maine.
- Canada is the world’s largest producer of wild blueberries.
- There are 5 major varities of blueberries grown in the US: lowbush, northern highbush, southern highbush, rabbiteye and half-high.
- Blueberries are a type of ‘false’ berry, meaning their fruits are formed not only from just the ovary, but from other parts of the flower.
- Angustifolium is a combination of the Latin words angustum meaning ‘narrow,’ and folium meaning ‘leaf’.
When your carb budget is limited, blueberries are still worth the price.
Although fruit can be difficult to squeeze into a low carb diet, 50 grams of wild blueberries contain fewer net carbohydrates (< 5 grams) than a cup of cooked broccoli and more polyphenols than 4 cups of brewed green tea.
While 100% dark chocolate provides more polyphenols per 100g than wild blueberries, a sensible 28g serving of semisweet dark chocolate clocks in at just 350mg of total polyphenols. 50g of wild blueberries would supply more polyphenols and fewer net carbohydrates at just 29 calories.
Phytonutrients encompass a vast range of diverse plant chemical spanning hundreds of thousands of components found inside plants, dwarfing the number of known micronutrients by several orders of magnitude. These compounds alter epigenetic expression and adaptive cellular response signaling pathways to influence inflammation, intracellular redox status, oxidative stress, cell cycle progression, and various metabolic processes.
One of the proposed mechanisms behind the benefits associated with a phyto-rich diet is through a modulation of the gut microbiome. Wild blueberries has been found to selectively increase bifidobacteria in the gut flora, which have been associated with improvements in stress and mood.
In double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical studies, the phytonutrients from blueberries have been found to offer measurable improvements in memory and cognition no matter the age group studied, with the effects reproduced across children, adults, and the elderly. In a study with older adults, the group with the higher blueberry consumption demonstrated improvements in verbal fluency.
In one study, blueberry consumption improved the speed of vision recovery after exposure to a bright light. In another study, blueberry consumption improved the recovery of muscle peak isometric strength. Most recently, Vo2 max and exercise performance time were increased in the blueberry supplementation group, demonstrating an enhancement of psychomotor and motor function.
Side effects include: A black tongue and a big blue smile.
Blueberries are rich in anthocyanin polyphenols, a large group of red-blue plant pigments. Cyanidin, is particularly noteworthy anthocyanin found in blueberries, which is associated with SIRT6 cellular activation — mice that produce extra SIRT6 live nearly 20 percent longer than their matched controls, with a proportional increase in health-span that persists into old age.
A temporary side effect to consuming a sizable quantity of plant pigment rich berries (particularly post-freezing, which ruptures the cell walls), as you might guess, is a dyed blue-black tongue and a blue smile — it’s not the kind of snack you want to throw down without a glance in the mirror before heading off to an important meeting.
My latest post-workout blueberry smoothie-bowl recipe
What if there was a way to increase the absorption of these dark pigments?
Well, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry actually published a study in 2007 which discovered an enhanced absorption of anthocyanins after oral administration of phytic acid in both rats and humans. While phytic acid is often viewed as an anti-nutrient limiting micronutrient mineral uptake, as it turns out, the opposite effect seems to occur when phytic acid is ingested with anthocyanins.
To further increase absorption and prebiotic properties, I propose selecting a recipe that combines fiber, fat, and protein — ideally with an amino acid balance that provides both cysteine and glycine to supply the precursors for the endogenous synthesis of glutathione.
- 50g wild blueberries
- 50g cranberries
- 20g vanilla whey protein (a source of cysteine)
- 10g collagen protein (a source of glycine)
- 1/2 an avocado
- 1 brazil nut (a source of selenium)
- a handful of fresh Italian parsley or dark leafy greens
- a cup of unsweetened vanilla hemp milk (a source of GLA)
- a pinch of sea salt
- a teaspoon of cacao powder
- a teaspoon of ground flaxseed (a source of phytic acid)
Voila! 13.9g net carbs, 30g protein, 24g fat, 100% awesome.
A diet rich in natures color’s
The rich, dark pigmented phytos contained within wild blueberries offer a true gift of wellness.
Studies will continue to find benefits ranging from improvements in physical strength and vitality to cognition and the trajectory towards longevity. As macronutrients provide the raw energetic potential to propel the human body, and micronutrients support the structural, metabolic, and operational systems required for daily functioning, phytos play an important oversight role in directing long-term trends for optimal performance, repair, and resilience. All you have to do is chew!