Blueberries and Brain Health: The Protective Effect of Blueberries On Your Memory
Updated: Jan 7
Written by: Leora Aframian, MS, RDN
July is National Blueberry Month!
Let’s celebrate these small but nutrient-packed berries. Blueberries are a summertime staple and have quite the nutritional reputation for being one of the healthiest foods around. You might have even heard them be referred to as “superfoods.” What exactly is it about these delicious berries that give them their super status? How can incorporating blueberries into your daily diets improve health and wellness? Blueberries carry many health benefits and are easy to incorporate into almost any routine. In addition to the notable health benefits of blueberries, including its anti-cancer, anti-diabetes properties and connection to heart health, these berries are also associated with improved cognition (Zegarac).
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed by the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the USDA, recommends a serving of 1 ½ c -2 c of fruit daily on an 1800-2000 calorie diet (Appendix 3). The majority should come from whole foods. Most people enjoy the hybrid of tart and sweet flavors of blueberries when eaten whole or incorporated into an ice-cold fruit smoothie. Adhering to this recommendation, especially in the summertime when blueberries are at peak season, should be no sweat.
Nutritional Profile of Blueberries
1 cup of blueberries contains approximately:
1 gram of protein
21 grams of carbohydrates
.5 grams of fat
3 to 5 grams of dietary fiber
Blueberries pack a great deal of vitamins and minerals in a relatively small amount of calories. They are an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, potassium, and folate. Additionally, they carry anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (Zegarac). Most berries are nutrient-dense but not calorically dense, making them a wise choice to integrate into almost any meal plan.
The Blues and Your Brain
Why do blueberries have a protective effect on the brain? Blueberries, and other plant foods, get their red, blue and purple color from anthocyanidins or anthocyanins. These terms are often used interchangeably but are usually tied to similar health benefits and provide similar hues to plant food. The only factor that differentiates them is the chemical attachment of sugar molecules (Thalheimer). Anthocyanidins are a subgroup of the phytochemicals flavonoids.
Research supports the protective effect of blueberries on memory
The Nurses’ Health Study is among one of the largest studies in which blueberries were associated with improved cognition. 121, 700 registered nurses between ages 30-55 completed a questionnaire every two years about their diet and lifestyle. The cohort study concluded with 16,010 participants age 70 years and older who were interviewed at two-year intervals to estimate the differences in cognitive decline against flavonoid and berry intakes.
The researchers found higher berry intake was associated with a 2.5-year delay in cognitive aging. Other sources of flavonoids such as tea, apples, onions and oranges were not related to cognitive decline. These results are attributed to higher long-term consumption of berries as sources of anthocyanidins and flavonoids and a reduction in cognitive decline in older women (Devore et al.). In a news release regarding the study, Dr. Devore notes, “we provide the first epidemiological evidence that berries appear to slow the progression of memory decline in elderly women” (Berries Keep Your Brain Sharp).
Additionally, a small study was done in which wild blueberry juice was given to older adults with memory changes. The experimental group maintained a daily intake between 6ml and 9 ml depending on body weight. After 12 weeks, the results indicated improved memory function in older adults with an early indication of a decline in memory. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the anthocyanins of blueberries have been associated with improved brain function, especially regarding memory (Krikorian, Robert, et al).
The mind is just as important as the body and should be considered when measuring overall health and wellness. It can be difficult to maintain a truly healthy body without the help of a sound mind. Blueberries are an easy way to keep the brain strong and healthy. If you’re looking for new ways to incorporate blueberries into your routine, look over the list provided below and try a new way to enjoy these wonderful summer berries.
10 Easy Ways to Incorporate Blueberries Into Your Daily Diet:
Adding blueberries to your daily routine is easier than you may expect. Try any or all of these suggestions to include these brain-boosting berries into your diet.
Eat them whole as a snack.
Freeze them for a cool and refreshing dessert.
Sprinkle them over your pancakes or add them to the batter.
Add them to plain yogurt for a colorful and nutrient kick.
Try adding them to your morning oatmeal or cold cereal.
Make a blueberry smoothie and make popsicles by adding the leftovers to empty ice trays in the freezer along with popsicle sticks.
Bake them into your favorite muffin recipe.
Try dried or freeze-dried blueberries available at most grocery stores year-round. Look over the ingredients list to ensure no sugar is added.
Add them to homemade ice cubes for a colorful treat to your water.
Sprinkle them over a savory salad for a subtly sweet garnish.
Note: When serving fresh blueberries, it is advised to wash berries just before serving to prevent soft and soggy berries.
1. “Berries Keep Your Brain Sharp.” Eureka Alert, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 26 Apr. 2012, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/bawh-bky042512.php.
“Blueberries, Raw.” Food Data Central, US Department of Agriculture, 1 Apr. 2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html.
2. Devore, Elizabeth E et al. “Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline.” Annals of neurology vol. 72,1 (2012): 135-43. doi:10.1002/ana.23594
Krikorian, Robert et al. “Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry vol. 58,7 (2010): 3996-4000. doi:10.1021/jf9029332
3. Thalheimer, Judith C. “Purple Reigns.” Today's Dietitian , July 2016, www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0716p18.shtml.
4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/our-work/food-and-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/.
5. Zegarac, Jasenka Piljac. “The Power of Blueberries.” Today's Dietitian , Oct. 2014, p. 42, www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/100614p42.shtml.