At my house, the mealtime mantra was always "eat your greens." Now, thanks to researchers at the USDA/Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, parents can add "eat your blues," too. In one of their studies, blueberries ranked first among 50 fresh fruits and vegetables in antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants can help protect against cellular damage that leads to degenerative diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
When researchers conducting tests on fruits and vegetables realized that the antioxidant capacity of blueberries varied by as much as 300 percent, they investigated further. A study of 23 blueberry (Vaccinium) varieties showed that, in general, bilberries (V. myrtillus) had the highest antioxidant capacity, followed by lowbush, rabbiteye, and highbush varieties. The researchers also found that as 'Brightwell' and 'Tifblue' rabbiteye berries mature, producing a deeper blue, the levels of antioxidant pigment (anthocyanins) increase significantly--by 1-1/2 times. Blueberry plants are widely available.
Shila Patel is a former managing editor at National Gardening.
Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association.