Bilberry's nutritional value and health effects
The bilberry has extremely high nutritional value. Bilberries are nature’s own vitamin, mineral and polyphenol pills. Polyphenols are produced by forest plants to protect their berries from pests, the sun’s UV radiation and other environmental hazards. Nature’s own regulation system has developed these protective substances for berries over thousands of years. Humans change this system through cultivation. Fertilisers make the berries larger in size. The use of plant protection products reduces the production of the plants’ own protective substances.
The bilberry contains little energy. Bilberries do not contain saturated fat and are good for low-fat diets. Bilberries also contain vitamin E, and are a source of fibre. Arctic bilberries are a superior source of polyphenols. Unlike the cultivated blueberry, the bilberry is blue both inside and out.
Anthocyanins are among the most important flavonoids in berries. Blue and black berries (like bilberry, crowberry and bog whortleberry) include more anthocyanins than red or yellow berries. The bilberry contains several times more anthocyanins than the cultivated blueberry.
Source: Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2022.
Source: Riihinen et al. 2008.
Sources: Koponen et al. 2007. Hellström et al. 2009.
The regular consumption of berries has been observed to have a positive effect on contributing factors of cardiac health, blood coagulation, blood pressure and HDL cholesterol. In studies, polyphenols have also been observed to prevent viral and bacterial attachment and growth, and slow cell aging. For this reason, berries are also studied in the prevention of various inflammatory disorders. It is possible that the regular consumption of berries has an effect on the prevention of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, different cancers and memory diseases. There have been indications of these preventive properties in animal testing and therefore studies are underway on the effects on humans.
The effect of bilberry on ocular health, especially on night vision, has been known since the Second World War. The positive effects of bilberry on eyes are primarily based on anthocyanins. The existing research results also suggest that bilberry and its anthocyanins could affect the vascular health in several ways (e.g. Törrönen et al. 2008). Recently Onali et al. (2021) reviewed the anticancer effects of bilberry and lingonberry on digestive tract cancers. The majority of studies investigated bilberry and colorectal cancer. Experimental studies on colorectal cancer indicated that bilberry inhibited intestinal tumor formation and cancer cell growth. Only one uncontrolled pilot human trial was identified. Thus, further studies in well-designed clinical trials are certainly needed so that the beneficial health effects of bilberry could be verified.
Permitted nutrition claims for bilberry
- High fibre (5 g/100 kcal)
- Low fat (1,1 g/100 g)
- Saturated fat-free (< 0,1 g/100 g)
- With no added sugars (contains naturally occurring sugars)
- Sodium-free (0,005 g/100 g)
- Source of vitamin E (1,9 mg/100 g)
Health claim means any claim that states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health. The starting point for the use of health claims is that claims cannot be used until the scientific substantiation for the claim has been approved. The European Food Safety Authority EFSA assesses the substantiation on which the claim is based and after that the claim is authorised or rejected by the European Commission under a regulation. At the moment, there are not any health claims related to bilberries or any other berries.
The European Commission maintains a register of authorised and unauthorised claims. Moreover, certain claims are still waiting for the Commission's final decision and therefore these claims may for the time being be used in the marketing of food. When considering bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), such claims are for example:
- Bilberry is rich in the antioxidants anthocyanidins
- Bilberry supports visual clarity (supports retinal function, maintains eye health, supports blood flow to the eye, well known source of antioxidants, natural defense against free radicals, provides antioxidant support for the eyes, helps protect eyes)
- Bilberry anthocyanosides can help capillary wessels health and elasticity of veins against harmful effect of free radicals
- The anthocyanosides in bilberry may help maintain healthy, functioning mucous membranes in stomach and in small intestine
In these examples, the wording of the claim is the same as suggested by the applicant.
More information about bilberry in the Arctic Bilberry brochure:
Further information about berries in Healthy Forest Berries brochure:
Chan, S.W. & Tomlinson, B. 2020. Effects of bilberry supplementation on metabolic and cardiovascular disease risk. Molecules 2020, 25(7), 1653. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25071653
European Commission 2022. Nutrition and Health Claims.
Finnish Food Authority 2022. Health claims.
Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2022. Fineli – Finnish Food Composition Database. Blueberry, bilberry, Vaccinium myrtillus.
Habanova, M., Saraiva, J.A., Haban, M., Schwarzova, M., Chlebo, P., Predna, L., Gazo, J. & Wyka, J. 2016. Intake of bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease by inducing favorable changes in lipoprotein profiles. Nutrition research 36: 1415-1422. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2016.11.010
Hellström, J.K., Törrönen, R. & Mattila, P.H. 2009. Proanthocyanidins in Common Food Products of Plant Origin. J. Agric. Food Chem. 57: 7899-7906. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf901434d
Koponen, J.M., Happonen, A.M., Mattila, P.H. & Törrönen, A.R. 2007. Contents of Anthocyanins and Ellagitannins in Selected Foods Consumed in Finland. J. Agric. Food Chem. 55: 1612-1619. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf062897a
Onali, T., Kivimäki, A., Mauramo, M., Salo, T. & Korpela, R. 2021. Anticancer Effects of Lingonberry and Bilberry on Digestive Tract Cancers. Antioxidants 2021, 10, 850. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10060850
Riihinen, K., Jaakola, L., Kärenlampi, S. & Hohtola, A. 2008. Organ-specific distribution of phenolic compounds in bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and ‘northblue’ blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum x V. angustifolium). Food Chemistry 110: 156-160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2008.01.057
Törrönen, R., Sarkkinen, E., Karvonen, H. & Tapola, N. 2008. Yhteenveto tieteellisestä näytöstä koskien mustikan, karpalon ja puolukan ravitsemus- ja terveysvaikutuksia. https://www.sitra.fi/app/uploads/2017/02/marjat-2.pdf