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Anti-aging, nutrient-rich berry just needs a rinse

July 12, 2006|by LYNN LITTLE

Blueberries are one of the top 20 antioxidant-rich foods and are probably the easiest fruit to prepare and serve. There's no peeling, pitting, coring or cutting. Just rinse, eat and enjoy! In addition to their visual appeal, intense blue color and sweet delectable flavor, blueberries are a healthful and convenient food.

Luscious, sweet blueberries are low in fat, sodium-free and a good source of both fiber and vitamin C. A one-half cup serving of blueberries has 25 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, 3 grams of dietary fiber, numerous other disease-fighting nutrients and about 40 calories.

Blueberries are not only a good source of fiber and vitamin C, which reduce the risk of chronic disease, but their blue pigment has antioxidant abilities that might protect the body from heart disease, cancer and more. Some of the health benefits proven and currently being researched include:

· Anti-aging. The pigment in blueberries and anthocyanins has been shown to retard and even reverse age-related declines in brain function and cognitive and motor performance. Other compounds in blueberries might delay the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

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· Heart disease. Blueberries are believed to have the potential to reduce LDL or "bad" cholesterol. Their antioxidants also appear to protect artery cells against damage that results in clogged arteries and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

· Antibacterial properties. Just as cranberries protect the health of the urinary tract, blueberries might, too. Several substances in the blueberry might interfere with bacteria adhering to cells that line the urinary tract.

· Eyesight. Blueberries are believed to improve eyesight and reduce eyestrain. They have been studied for their potential to improve night vision and prevent cataracts.

And if that's not reason enough to try some, July is National Blueberry Month.

If you are picking or purchasing fresh blueberries, you should know that blueberries, even those on the same bush, do not all ripen at the same time. Under normal growing conditions, blueberries ripen over a period of three to four weeks. Blueberries are ready for harvest no sooner than three to four days after the fruit becomes fully blue. Blueberries can remain on the plant for seven to 10 days after they have become ripe without significant loss in quality. However, they will not continue to ripen after being picked.

Ripe blueberries should have a completely uniform blue color. Fruit with a red tinge is less mature and will not be as sweet as more mature berries. For best results, blueberries should be harvested carefully when they are dry and fully ripe. It is best to wait a few hours after a rain or heavy dew before harvesting. Wet berries are more susceptible to decay-causing organisms and often leak juice, causing them to resemble overripe berries.

If you buy blueberries from a grocery store:

· Choose blueberries that are firm and have a lively, uniform hue colored with a whitish bloom.

· Shake the container to see if the blueberries move freely. If they do not move freely, they might be soft, damaged and/or moldy.

· Avoid blueberries that appear dull in color or are soft and watery in texture. Water will cause blueberries to decay.

Blueberries are not as perishable as most other berries. Blueberries will keep for about a week if they are handled properly. Use care in working with blueberries, as they bruise easily.

Blueberries react with metal, which causes both the berries and the metal to discolor, so don't store them in metal containers. Put blueberries in a plastic container and refrigerate them as soon as possible. For optimal storage, berries should be refrigerated but not washed until needed; the added moisture will hasten the growth of mold.

Once chilled, they will maintain their quality from 10 days to two weeks. Remember, both frozen and fresh berries should be rinsed and drained just before serving.

Only ripe, full-flavored blueberries should be frozen. The secret to successful freezing is to use berries that are unwashed and completely dry before placing them in the freezer. Washing blueberries before freezing can result in a tough-skinned product. Instead, wash them after thawing. Spread the dry blueberries in a single layer on a metal tray. Allow the berries to dry so they won't stick together, and then freeze them until solid. Finally, pack the berries in freezer containers and label. Blueberries can be frozen alone in containers or covered with cold, 40-percent-sugar syrup (three cups of sugar to four cups of water).

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