Berry lovers, rejoice! The summer season packs store shelves with juicy berries of all varieties. One of the fan favorites? Blueberries, which are bursting with sweetness and packed with nutrients.

One cup (or handful) of blueberries is a good source of fiber and contains vitamin C, K, manganese and polyphenols, or beneficial plant compounds.

Studies have linked blueberries to heart health, brain health, longevity and gut health. Not to mention that they are juicy, satisfying and taste great in a variety of recipes, both sweet and savory.

Learn the health benefits of blueberries, as well as fun facts about the tiny fruit and creative ways to include them in your diet.

Blueberry nutrition facts

One cup of blueberries has:

● 85 calories

● 1 gram protein

● 0 grams fat

● 22 grams carbohydrates

● 4 grams fiber (14% daily value (DV))

● 15 milligrams vitamin C (17% DV)

● 29 ug vitamin K (24% DV)

The health benefits of blueberries

Blueberries have been studied extensively for their polyphenol content, including a specific plant compound called anthonyacins, which give blueberries their rich color. These nutrients have been linked to heart health and blueberries are actually Certified Heart Healthy through the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Food Certification Program.

A recent review showed an association between blueberry intake and lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, as well as reduced blood pressure levels. What’s more, a very recent randomized controlled trial concluded that supplementing with freeze dried blueberry powder for 12 weeks improved endothelial function — a significant indicator of heart and artery health — in postmenopausal women with high blood pressure. The study authors attribute this response to the blueberries’ antioxidants that fight oxidative stress.

The inflammation-fighting capacity of blueberries has also been connected to brain health and healthy aging. Studies have shown that early intervention with blueberries in those at risk for dementia may reduce cognitive decline. And eating blueberries regularly is associated with a decreased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease and slower rates of cognitive decline. Not to mention that regularly eating vitamin C contributes to immune health, which becomes increasingly important with age.

Lastly, blueberries are thought to be healthy for the gut, primarily due to their fiber content. A randomized controlled trial in people with functional gastrointestinal disorders found that supplementing with freeze dried blueberries for six weeks relieved abdominal symptoms and improved general markers of well-being, and quality of life, more than the participants taking a placebo. The research on blueberries and the gut microbiome is still new and mostly conducted in animals, but the results are promising. Early research in rats showed that blueberry supplementation reduced diet-induced body weight and improve insulin sensitivity, and the scientists accredit at least some of these results to changes in the gut microbiota.

Are there drawbacks to eating blueberries?

Because blueberries are high in fiber, eating too many may cause gas or diarrhea. But someone would need to eat several cups of blueberries on a daily basis to worry about these side effects. Also, the anthonyacins in blueberries can stain your teeth. If you’re worried about your pearly whites, brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with warm water after eating blueberries.

Fun facts about blueberries

These interesting tidbits are a few more reasons to add blueberries to your diet:

Blueberries are a great post-workout recovery snack

Due to their antioxidant power, blueberries have been studied for their ability to lower post-workout inflammation. A study in cyclists who completed a 75-kilometer ride found that supplementing with both blueberries and bananas reduced post-workout pro-inflammatory markers that are common with heavy exertion. Another study in female athletes concluded that drinking a blueberry smoothie before and after exercise-induced muscle damage accelerates muscle recovery and strength.

Wild blueberries are different than ordinary blueberries

Unlike traditional farmed blueberries, wild blueberries are harvested in the open fields of Maine. They have a very short harvest season, in the peak of Maine summer, so most of them are flash frozen right after picking. The taste of wild blueberries ranges from tart to sweet, and they are smaller than ordinary blueberries. Wild blueberries also have 33% more anthocyanins than ordinary blueberries. It’s difficult to find fresh wild blueberries in the store, so look for them in the frozen aisle.

Blueberries are one of the only truly blue foods

Although other foods contain anthonyacins, blueberries are uniquely blue. Other fruits that contain the pigment-coloring compound are strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and grapes. But if you’re looking for a dark blue food to add a variety to a fruit salad, blueberries are the only berry to fit the bill.

Healthy blueberry recipes

There are so many ways to include blueberries in your diet this summer, from traditional sweet desserts to unconventional savory salsas. Here are some of our favorite blueberry recipes:

Sheet-Pan Blueberry Crisp by Kelly Vaughan

Skillet Blueberry Pancake by Sheela Prakash

Giada’s Red, White and Blue Salad by Giada De Laurentiis

Peach-Blueberry Cobbler by Elizabeth Chambers

Giant Blueberry Pop Tart by Riley Wofford

Fish Tacos with Red, White and Blueberry Salsa Recipe by Alejandra Ramos

Blueberry Cornbread with Whipped Cream and Honey by Romel Bruno

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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