Blueberries: shoppers lap up UK's new superfood

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Early settlers in the United States fell in love with the small blue fruit, while Native Americans have long known of their health-giving properties. Now blueberries are closing the gap on apples and bananas in the UK as the nation's favourite fruits.

Early settlers in the United States fell in love with the small blue fruit, while Native Americans have long known of their health-giving properties. Now blueberries are closing the gap on apples and bananas in the UK as the nation's favourite fruits.

Blueberries are flying off the shelves of shops and supermarkets in huge amounts in response to a series of reports citing their apparent health-giving properties - which include protection against cancers and high cholesterol. They are high in vitamin C and in anti-oxidant compounds.

Sales of blueberries, which once barely figured on supermarket shelves, have soared in the past year, rising by £14.7 million to make the total British market worth about £31m.

According to Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket, sales have risen by 185 per cent since last September. At Waitrose, sales have risen by 150 per cent over the past year.

They are now being seen by consumers as part of the elite group of so-called "superfoods" which are credited by scientists with healthy properties over and above those normally found in fresh fruit and vegetables. Other such "superfoods" include broccoli, garlic and oily fish.

The demand has also been boosted by the inclusion of blueberries in the recently popular GI Diet, which has been touted as an anti-Atkins diet and advocates the eating of foods which break down slower in the body.

But the main stimulus was provided by a report last year by researchers for the Department of Agriculture in the United States, which showed that the compound pterostilbene, which is found in the fruit, could be as effective as commercial drugs in lowering cholesterol. The same compound, similar to those found in red wine, has already been cited as preventative for diabetes and some cancers.

Andrew Gaunt, the blueberry buyer for Tesco, said: "Demand for blueberries has been so phenomenal that we've had to give them extra shelf space - shoppers simply can't get enough of them. Our sales have nearly quadrupled since a run of newspaper and magazine articles hailed blueberries as one of nature's wonder foods capable of helping protect the body against a wide range of ailments.

"Much of their appeal is that they taste so delicious, are easy to eat and are loved by young and old alike. Kids love them and they have become a favourite for parents to include in schoolchildren's lunchboxes."

A spokeswoman for Waitrose said: "We also believe that the increase is due to the greater awareness that they are reported to be good for you. But also they are very convenient and easy to prepare.''

Blueberries originated in the United States, where, like the cranberry, they were found growing extensively in the wild by the early settlers; cultivated, they soon became a mainstay of American baking. They are a close relative of the bilberry or whortleberry, which is found in upland Britain and across northern Europe.

The healthy attributes of blueberries and bilberries have been well known since ancient times. Native Americans used them in medicines, as well as using them as a dye and in meat preservation. They were said to help prevent or relieve the symptoms of bladder infections, act as a natural aspirin and an antibacterial agent. In Sweden, they have been used to treat diarrhoea. Traditionally, a tea made from the leaves was used to treat diabetes, while the bark and root was used to treat mouth ulcers.

Dr Hannah Theobold of the British Nutrition Foundation, said that while such berries were beneficial, it was important to put their properties in context. She said: "Berries such as blueberries, bilberries, raspberries and strawberries are a good source of fibre and a rich source of vitamin C. They also contain anthocyanins and other flavonoids, which are anti-oxidant compounds and may offer some protection against heart disease and some cancers.

"It has been suggested that berries such as blueberries and bilberries could help protect against age-related macular degeneration. However, not all studies are in agreement and further research is certainly required to confirm whether this is the case or not.''

Furthermore, blueberries present a problem for the ethically conscious shopper. The majority of blueberries sold in this country no longer come from the US, but are imported from Europe, South America and South Africa, and therefore have a high "food miles" count, which is frowned on by environmentalists.

The superfoods

BROCCOLI

Considered to be the ultimate superfood. The 'green goodness' contains cysteine - which detoxifys chemicals in your body, easing cold and flu symptoms, dietary fibre, which helps with constipation and blood sugar levels. Smokers and regular drinkers can defend their cells against free-radicals with its lutein and zeaxanthin. And vitamin C lowers risk of cancer.

KIWI FRUIT

Ninety-five per cent of our daily intake of vitamin C can be gained from this small hairy fruit. They also contain potassium, which lowers blood pressure and helps fatigue, magnesium , which can help headaches and irregular heart-beats, and manganese , which can reduce feelings of nausea, and loss of hearing.

OILY FISH (tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines)

Containing enzymes that can help prevent cardiovascular disease, stomach ulcers and high blood pressure, oily fishes are also high in glutamine, which protects from colds, and niacin-B3, which lowers cholesterol. People with depression, fatigue, diabetes and itchy skin should eat salmon for its abundance in omega 3 fatty acids. They are also said to protect against Alzheimer's Disease. Because of pollutants, women of child-bearing age should not eat more than two portions a week.

GREEN TEA

High in flavanoids. People who drink five cups a day are 16 per cent less likely to contract heart disease. It has been linked to cancer-prevention because it inhibits the development of new blood vessels that spread the disease. It repairs alcohol-abused livers, and protects against diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

GARLIC

Cloves contain manganese - which promotes healthy bones and lowers cholesterol - vitamin B6, which relieves eczema, eases fatigue and is needed by people with anemia or prone to seizures. Plentiful in vitamin C, it is also a good source of selenuim, which helps prevent cancer.

Kate Wiggans

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