By Melissa Heires, Central Michigan University Dietetic Student Intern
Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, causing 1 out of every 4 deaths. After hearing statistics like that, we should all consider improving our heart health. Making improvements to our heart health usually consists of daily exercise and less red meat or a low-fat diet. These are the goals we should all strive for. However, there is one small thing you could do every day to improve your heart health without changing a thing in your routine. That small thing is to eat blueberries! Yes, that’s it! Eat blueberries!
Packed with nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, – blueberries are one of nature’s powerhouses. They are in the same superfood category as salmon, oats, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds according to the American Heart Association. What makes blueberries exceptional is their level of antioxidants. Antioxidants help fight harmful molecules in our bodies. These substances are essential for our bodies to function properly and be overall healthy.
The function of the arteries in the body has a major effect on the heart. Inflammation, cholesterol, and high blood pressure are three issues that can impair the arteries and overall heart health.
Blueberries have high anti-inflammatory properties due to their high antioxidant levels. Chronic inflammation contributes to heart disease. In our cardiovascular system, high inflammation can promote the growth of plaques in the arteries. Growing plaques can restrict the blood flow causing the heart to work harder. Restricted blood flow also restricts the amounts of oxygen and nutrients that flow through the body.
Antioxidants can prevent the change that turns cholesterol into substances that form plaques on the artery walls. High cholesterol is another factor that contributes to heart disease. Blueberries have Anthocyanins (25 different kinds), which are chemicals that helps lower cholesterol. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that are responsible for the dark, blueish-purple color on blueberries. These chemicals lower the oxidation in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). When LDL cholesterol oxidizes it triggers inflammation that leads to the collection of plaques on the arteries.
High blood pressure causes thickening and hardening of the artery walls. Blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries from the heartbeat (top or first number) and the pressure in the arteries from the rests between heartbeats (bottom or second number). Having high blood pressure can damage the arteries making them less elastic. If the arteries become less elastic, they could decrease the blood flow through them. The heart and blood vessels are lined with endothelium. The Anthocyanins in blueberries have been proven to improve the function of endothelial cells (the cells that form the endothelium) as well as help with preventing damage to the endothelial cells.
Studies have shown that eating a cup of blueberries every day can reduce risk factors for heart disease up to 15%. Such a small addition to your diet can make a big change. The next time you are at the grocery store make sure you stock up. There is also no significant difference between fresh or frozen blueberries. Incorporating them in your daily meals can ensure you get one cup per day. There are many ways that you can add them to your diet. Try sprinkling them into cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothie. Adding blueberries to a salad can enhance the flavors of the leafy greens or you could use them as a topping for your favorite pancakes. Lastly, if you are in the mood for a dessert, blueberries are perfect to add on top of cake, ice cream, or cooked into a blueberry crisp.
Please enjoy this delicious and fun-to-make recipe that includes these small but powerful berries!
Chocolate Blueberry Cups
- 12 oz dark chocolate chips
- ¼ cup pecans finely chopped
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
- Line a 12 cup mini muffin pan with aluminum liners
- Put chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and melt it by heating it in the microwave in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until chocolate is smooth and melted.
- Stir pecans into the melted chocolate
- Fill each cup with the melted chocolate
- Top each chocolate-filled cup with blueberries, pressing them into the chocolate so they are partly submerged
- With a spoon, drizzle any remaining chocolate over the berries
- Refrigerate 15 minutes or until chocolate is firm
Store the chocolates in an airtight container in the fridge up to 3 days
Aluminum liners work better than paper liners for making these chocolates since they are heavier, which makes them easier to fill.