Nutritional offerings attract diners and drive sales.

More and more, restaurant goers are looking for healthy options when it comes to dining.

As Americans begin to be more conscious about what they eat at home, their healthy choices follow them going out to dinner. Restaurants can capitalize on this by offering healthy ingredients like wild blueberries in their menu selections.

According to the National Restaurant Association, a recent survey showed that 70 percent of consumers consider whether or not a restaurant has healthy choices when choosing where to eat out. Diners, especially millennials and Gen Xers, are more likely to base their restaurant selection on the availability of healthy, locally sourced or environmentally-friendly foods.

Mary Ann Lila, director for the Plants for Human Health Institute, says research on wild blueberries shows that they are not only beneficial for the heart and blood pressure, but also are beneficial for mental acuity, cognitive function, and metabolic issues, such as diabetes.

“The use of wild blueberries in cuisine can give restaurant owners a unique edge over other establishments because the use of berries in the diet prepared with wild meats and seafoods and greens is a ‘back to nature’ proposition,” Lila says. “Using a berry with known health benefits and a wild, exotic history is appealing to health-conscious consumers looking for some unique flavors and pure natural ingredients when they dine out,” Lila says.

A study at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University found that the bioactive compounds in blueberries increased research participants’ insulin sensitivity, a key factor in preventing type-2 diabetes.

“The most exciting health benefit has to do with metabolic syndrome and diabetes,” Lila says. “Research indicates that diabetic symptoms are reduced after consumption of wild blueberries. As diabetes and metabolic syndromes are such an escalating problem in this country, it’s a key finding.”

Other benefits of wild blueberries include improving cognitive function, gut health, and cardiovascular health and lowering blood pressure.

Research at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that a diet including blueberries may improve motor skills in aging adults and may reverse short-term memory loss. And studies at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom found that wild blueberries promote healthy brain activity in children and teens, including positive effects on memory, concentration and mood.

Mary Ann Lila is director for the Plants for Human Health Institute.

“Wild blueberries are so potent against so many human pathogens,” Lila says. “They pack so many phytonutrients that are beneficial to human health. The plant has literally co-evolved with humans and has developed phyto-active compounds that can attack pathogens in the human body to combat illness and disease.”

Because of their size, Lila said, the berries pack considerably more beneficial compounds into a smaller package. And because of the wild nature of the plant, their chemical make-up provides powerful nutrients to the body and the brain.

Lila says eating a handful of whole frozen wild blueberries not only provides you with the nutrients packed inside the berries, but also with the benefits of the fiber and nutrient-rich skin.

A 2017 nationwide quantitative consumer research study conducted by Portland Marketing Analytics, a research firm, also reported that today’s consumers are hungry for the taste and health benefits of wild foods on U.S. menus, and in particular, wild blueberries. In every food category and menu item researched, consumer purchase intent and perceptions of health increased when restaurants used and called out wild blueberries as a key ingredient in their menu descriptions. For example, the research showed when ordering dessert in a restaurant, consumers believed a dessert was healthier and they were more than twice as likely to purchase that dessert if “wild blueberries” were mentioned on the menu rather than just “blueberries.”

“Using wild blueberries on the menu gives the diner something different, something that breaks routine when they dine out,” Lila says. “Instead of fretting about too many empty calories in restaurant menu options, they can deliberately choose dishes and beverages that deliver an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory boost.”

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