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Boost your health with blueberries

July 09, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

This is the season to check out locally grown berries and one of the best choices for your health is fresh blueberries. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks blueberries among the highest in antioxidant content and as a powerful ally in fighting aging and associated ailments.

Blueberries are not only a taste treat, but are really considered an antioxidant powerhouse. The antioxidant anthocyanidin, found in the bluish pigment, helps neutralize free radicals that damage cells and protects our bodies from developing cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins and certain cancers.

Other antioxidants in blueberries also show promise in preventing diabetes, high cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease. Scientists at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston found blueberries improved both memory and motor skills in laboratory animals. These researchers are now exploring which substances in blueberries keep message signals moving and improve brain function.

Researchers at Rutgers University found that blueberries, like cranberries, help reduce risk for urinary tract infections. These berries seem to prevent infection-causing bacteria from sticking to walls in the urinary tract. Their studies also showed certain compounds in blueberries lower the risk for blood clot formation and heart disease by reducing the stickiness of blood platelet cells.

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Blueberries are available fresh, frozen and dried, and all forms are rich in antioxidants. Blueberries are also a rich source of vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. Plus, blueberries are low in calories - only 40 calories per half cup serving.

Choose berries that are firm, plump and dry with smooth skins and a silvery sheen. Berries stored too long will look shriveled from dehydration. Reddish berries aren't quite ripe, but can be used in cooking. Store blueberries covered in the refrigerator, but do not wash until ready to use. Use fresh blueberries within about 10 days of purchase.

Blueberries can be frozen by placing a single layer on a cookie sheet, freezing and then transferring to heavy-duty freezer bags. Wash the berries just prior to eating or using in baked goods.

Consider going beyond the usual blueberry muffins and pancakes by using fresh or frozen blueberries in creative ways. Layer blueberries with low-fat yogurt and granola cereal for a parfait treat. Sprinkle berries over hot or cold cereal. Mix blueberries with cottage cheese, add to fruit salad or eat as a stand-alone snack.

Blueberries are a convenient, quick and easy food for today's busy lifestyles; no peeling, coring or cutting required. Enjoy a cup of blueberries each day as a great addition to your diet, and for less than 100 calories.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.




Blueberry-squash bread



1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, well beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups zucchini or summer squash, shredded
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda thoroughly.

Combine well-beaten eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla. Beat 3 minutes. Stir in squash and the blueberries. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour into a well-greased loaf pan, spreading batter evenly. Bake 40 minutes or until toothpick put into center of loaf comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove bread from the pan and cool.

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