Remember eating fruit rollups as a kid? They came in all different flavors and colors, fun shapes and even by the foot. The problem is…unnecessary excess sugar added. As a healthier option, I’ve created a homemade version that uses all natural ingredients and is full of fruity flavor. Better still, I’ll explain how the main ingredient (blueberries!) helps to promote processes in the brain, which are responsible for making long-term memories. Not only will you love this recipe, you’ll have no trouble remembering how easy they were to make.
Blueberry (Vaccinium spp) consumption has been linked with whole body antioxidant support, cardiovascular benefits and ocular health. While these health benefits have typically been attributed to the blueberry’s high levels of antioxidants, recent studies indicate that these small, tart berries are also rich in another phytonutrient called flavonoids.
Flavonoids, particularly anthocyanins and flavanols, have historically been linked with enhanced memory function. While the precise mechanism for this phenomena has not been clear, an article published in the Free Radical Biology & Medicine journal asked the question, “Does a diet rich in blueberries enhance the ability to form long term memories?” In order to assess cognitive memory processes, scientists in the UK put mice in a complex maze system and tested how well they were able to remember the correct path leading to the reward (food). Young mice excelled at the maze, learning the correct route after their first attempt and maintained their high level of performance over a 12 week period. Older mice, however, only chose the correct path ~50% of the time and their performance rate did not increase over time, indicating either memory loss or defective memory making. Amazingly, older mice fed a diet supplemented with blueberries performed significantly better than their older mice counterparts. They were able to learn as quickly as young mice and retained their capacity to make the correct decision over the duration of the experiment. While I won’t go into the biochemistry behind these results, the authors go on to show that activation of certain signaling pathways in the brain, which are thought to control memory, looked similar between the young mice and older mice + blueberries. In contrast, these pathways were significantly less active in older mice fed a normal diet. This suggests that as we age, important signals that are required to make and keep new memories can begin to breakdown. Together, these results indicate that not only does a healthy diet help to keep your aging physical body in good shape, but also can contribute to sustained healthy cognitive processes as well.
I hope you enjoy making and eating these fruit rollups. I think the dehydrator is a great tool to have in the kitchen, however, if you don’t have one you can pour your fruit puree onto a cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap and place in an oven set on low (140ºF-170ºF) for 8-12 hours. Voila!
- 12 ounces of fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1/4-1/2 cup of water (or fruit juice, etc.)
- Splash of lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp – 1 tsp of cinnamon (depending on your preference)
- Food dehydrator, I use a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator, which is very quiet and doesn’t take up too much counter space
- Warm the blueberries and water in a pot on the stove.
- The consistency of the mixture should be a little thicker than juice but not as thick as a smoothie. Feel free to add more water or juice until the desired consistency is achieved.
- Cook fruit down until the skins begins to break, mash the berries with back of spoon.
- Puree fruit in a food processor till smooth.
- Allow to cool a little.
- Spray a little bit of cooking spray or coconut oil on the fruit rollup trays to prevent sticking.
- Pour blueberry mixture onto the tray.
- Spread liquid mixture evenly using a spatula. This step is really important since you want the mixture to dry evenly. One trick I used was to sort of shake the pan lightly back and forth and this allows for more even distribution.
- Allow dehydrator to run until mixture is slightly sticky to the touch. If there are still patches that are wet you can peel the rollup off the sheet, flip it over and dry it out for 30 min more.
- Peel fruit rollup off sheet and using a pizza cutter cut into 1 inch strips. I rolled each of the strips up in parchment paper and secured each with a little bit of tape. Store in an airtight container or baggie.
- Want to add an extra shot of memory booster? Try adding green tea in place of the water, as this also has high levels of flavanoids.
Nutrition: Recipe makes about 10 strips. 1 strip= 17 calories, 4g carbs, 3g sugar, 1g fiber
- Blueberry-induced changes in spatial working memory correlate with changes in hippocampal CREB phosphorylation and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. Williams et al., Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Aug 1;45(3):295-305. Epub 2008 May 5.