PhotoBlueberries are getting new respect for their health benefits, including, researchers now say, their potential to protect against cancer.

Studies by the University of Alabama (UAB) Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that as little as a cup a day can help prevent cell damage linked to cancer.

Why are blueberries considered healthful? They're full of antioxidants, flavonoids and other vitamins that help prevent cell damage.

"Antioxidants protect cells by stabilizing free radicals and can prevent some of the damage they cause," said Laura Newton, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at UAB.

Free radicals, atoms that contain an odd number of electrons and are highly reactive, can cause cellular damage, one of the factors in the development of cancer; many believe a diet filled with fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk.

"Studies suggest that antioxidants may help prevent the free-radical damage associated with cancer," said Newton, a licensed dietician who often works with cancer patients.

Fresh is better

Blueberries also are rich in vitamin C, which helps the immune system and can help the body to absorb iron. Blueberry juice and other products may be nutritious but often contain less fiber than the whole fruit, and added sugar or corn syrup may decrease their nutritional value.

Consuming fresh, raw blueberries provides the most benefits; the average serving size of raw blueberries is one cup, which contains about 80 calories.

Blueberries have emerged as a favorite fruit among health researchers in recent years, who have touted a wide variety of its health benefits. Studies conducted in 2006 found blueberries promoted memory and alertness and prevented some infections.

A study earlier this year at Texas Woman's University found blueberries in the diet also help fight obesity, by slowing the formation of fat cells.

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