The American Diabetes Association (ADA) lists berries as one of their “superstar” foods. Berries contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and are a good source of powerful antioxidants. They are a great way to help satisfy a sweet tooth and have lots of health benefits. Below we investigate elderberry (sambucus) vs blueberry to see which one is the best bet.
What is it?
The elderberry is a dark purple berry that grows on the European elder (or Sambucus nigra) tree. S. nigra is native to Europe, but subspecies are found in North America and Asia, including the American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) in the United States. The elderberry plant has been grown for commercial use since the early 1980s (1). Elderberries have an earthy, slightly tart flavor.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), raw berries as well as the leaves and stems, are toxic and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cooking eliminates this toxin. Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding are advised to avoid elderberry.
Cooked elderberry can be used to make jam, jelly, ice cream, syrup and wine. Elderberry has been used throughout human history in folk medicine as a remedy for cold, flu, congestion, aches, pains, fevers, cuts, and burns. Today you will find commercial preparations of elderberry (sambucus) sold as natural cold and flu remedies.
|Elderberry Nutritional Content (Per 1 Cup)|
|Dietary Fiber||10.2 g|
|Vitamin A||870 mg|
|Vitamin C||52.2 mg|
Similar to many other fruits, elderberries are high in fiber and other nutrients, including Vitamins A and C and phytochemicals (compounds in plants that are beneficial to health). The main type of phytochemical in elderberries is anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants. Because of its high antioxidant content, elderberries hold some promise for effects on immune system function. Information on specific health benefits of elderberries are outlined below.
Although it has long been touted to reduce flu symptoms and upper respiratory infections, research is contradictory. Some studies have shown it to be effective (2), but a recent trial found no effect (3).
Some research in animals has been promising, but very few studies in humans have been conducted and no real link between elderberries and heart health is certain at this time. However, elderberries are high in antioxidants, which have been shown to be beneficial to heart health. Also, following a more plant-based diet is beneficial for heart health, so elderberries as part of an overall healthful eating plan may be useful. (See more on the health benefits of plant-based diets here.)
Similar to heart health, in vitro (in a test tube) and animal studies have shown positive effects of elderberry on measures of diabetes, including better blood sugar levels and increased production of insulin (4). However, these results have not been reproduced in humans.
Other Health Benefits
Elderberry does contain antioxidants that can in general reduce the free radicals and oxidative stress that lead to chronic disease. In vitro, elderberry can have positive effects against cancer, depression, and even sunburn, but no studies in humans have confirmed the benefits.
What is it?
Blueberries are a small blue fruit that is native to North America. Fresh berries have a generally sweet taste. Originally a wild plant, the northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) was bred in the early 1900s by Frederick V. Coville and Elizabeth White to be an agricultural product (5). It was one of the first plants to be moved from the wild to a cultivated crop. Some of the first commercial plantings were started in New Jersey (and having grown up picking my own there, I can tell you they are delicious!!). It was later adopted to other states, and now due to its north-south distribution, has a growing season in the United States of April through October. The United States is the largest producer of blueberries at over 200,000 tons per year according to the USDA, followed by Canada and Chile.
Blueberries are generally safe and can be eaten raw or cooked. Blueberries, blueberry leaves, and supplements containing any of these may interact with diabetes medications and cause a larger than normal decrease in blood sugar levels. Those at risk should monitor blood sugar levels closely. There have also been reports of negative effects on those with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, a rare genetic disorder that can affect blood cell production (6).
Blueberries are often used in baking or to make jelly, jam, syrup, and wine. They are delicious in a smoothie.
|Blueberry Nutritional Content (Per 1 Cup)|
|Dietary Fiber||3.6 g|
|Vitamin A||78.3 IU|
|Vitamin C||14 mg|
|Vitamin E||8 mg|
|Vitamin K||28 mcg|
Similar to elderberries and other fruit, blueberries have a high nutritional content that has been linked to long-term health. In addition to their great nutritional value, blueberries contain phytochemicals, which are plant compounds linked to positive health outcomes. The main phytochemical in blueberries is anthocyanin. Specific health benefits of blueberries are listed below.
While studies specifically on blueberries have not shown a strong effect on heart health (7), they may still play a role in the effects of plant-based diets on heart health due to their overall nutritional and antioxidant value and their high anthocyanin content. In fact, multiple studies have shown that higher intake of anthocyanins is associated with lower risk of heart disease (8). One recent study did show positive effects of blueberries on counteracting the effects of a high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar meal among people with Metabolic Syndrome. Those who had the equivalent of 1 cup of blueberries with their test meal, had better heart health related changes after their meal (9). There have been mixed study results on the ability of blueberries to lower blood pressure.
Studies have shown that people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables have the lowest risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Multiple animal and human studies have shown that a higher intake of blueberries is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (8). There is also evidence that eating blueberries can help mitigate weight gain as you age (8). This may be beneficial since increased weight is associated with developing type 2 diabetes.
Blueberries may improve some aspects of cognitive (brain) function. Lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and slower rates of age-related cognitive decline have been linked to higher anthocyanin and berry intake (8).
Elderberry vs blueberry: who wins? Both elderberries and blueberries have great nutritional value as part of an overall healthy diet and antioxidant properties that are beneficial for long-term health. Both are high in anthocyanins which have been shown to have great health effects. People may have a preference based on the different tastes of the berries. And if you have a cold, elderberry may help you feel better sooner. However, there is much more conclusive research on the beneficial effects of blueberries. Evidence clearly supports the benefits of including blueberries in your diet. Though I may be biased toward the state fruit of my birthplace (shout out New Jersey!), go blueberries!
Kate is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified yoga instructor with a Master’s in Public Health. She loves to share what she has learned about nutrition and yoga to help people live healthier, more balanced lives. When not working on this blog or teaching yoga, Kate is usually spending time with family and friends or reading a good book.