Blueberries Offer Nutritional Bonuses

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  5/30/2006 11:05:18 PM

Benefits of eating blueberries include improved vision, clearing arteries, strengthening blood vessels, enhanced memory, stopping urinary tract infections and reversing age-related physical and mental declines.

News You Can Use For June 2006

The health benefits of blueberries have made the news in recent years. Some of the reported benefits of eating blueberries include improved vision, clearing arteries, strengthening blood vessels, enhanced memory, stopping urinary tract infections and reversing age-related physical and mental declines.

LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says blueberries and other brightly colored berries contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and phytochemicals that help protect against disease, including certain cancers and heart disease.

Phytochemicals are nonnutritive substances in plants that promote health and prevent chronic disease. Antioxidants are phytochemicals that help neutralize harmful byproducts of metabolism called free radicals that contribute to heart disease and other diseases.

Blueberries are nature's number one source of antioxidants among fresh fruits and vegetables according to the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. Anthocyanins, the pigments giving blueberries their deep blue hue, act as antioxidants, which may provide many health benefits. In addition, blueberries are a low-calorie food – only 40 calories per 1/2 cup. Blueberries also are low in fat, sodium-free and a source of fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium.

Blueberries also contain compounds that may help to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), according to a report from the Rutgers Blueberry Cranberry Research Center in Chatsworth, N.J. The compounds, called condensed tannins, can keep the bacteria responsible for UTIs from attaching to the linings of the urinary and digestive tracts.

The Rabbiteye blueberry is most successfully grown in the South. Some varieties of Rabbiteye blueberries begin ripening the first week of June and others through the early part of July. Blueberries from other parts of the country are plentiful in supermarkets in July and August.

According to LSU AgCenter horticulture expert Dan Gill in his "Get It Growing" column, "The soils in many parts of Louisiana tend to be acid, and this is perfect for growing rabbiteye blueberries."

He notes that blueberry bushes are excellent for small gardens, since they stay much smaller than most fruit trees. Plants need a spacing of only about 6 feet. He recommends Tifblue, Woodard, Climax, Premier and Choice. Southern highbush blueberry cultivars, such as Cooper, Gulfcrest, Blue Ridge and Cape Fear, also may be planted.

Reames says to look for berries that are dark blue, with a frosty bloom. Store fresh blueberries in your refrigerator for up to two weeks, and wash them just before you use them; washing and then storing makes them mushy. Loose-pack frozen blueberries are available year-round, and you can use them in any recipe that calls for fresh blueberries. Since they are washed, they can be used right from the package.

The nutritionist adds that fresh blueberries should be plump and firm with a dark blue color and waxy, silvery "bloom." Sweetness varies by variety. Blueberries do not ripen after harvest, so as soon as you buy them, you can eat them. One pint of berries will provide four to five servings of fresh uncooked fruit.

Storage & Preparation

Handle fruit gently to avoid bruising. Bruising shortens the life of fruit and contributes to low quality.

– Sort carefully and remove berries that are too soft or decayed.

– Store berries loosely in a shallow container to allow air circulation and to prevent the berries on top from crushing those underneath.

– Do not wash berries before refrigerating.

– Store covered containers of berries in a cool, moist area of the refrigerator, such as in the hydrator (vegetable keeper), to help extend the usable life of the fruit. Recommended storage time is three to five days.

– Before eating berries or using them in your favorite recipe, wash berries gently in cold water, lift them out of water and drain.

– Freeze blueberries without washing. When washed before freezing, blueberry skins become tough. To freeze, remove stems and trash, package tightly in freezer bags, containers or glass jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal airtight and freeze. Remove from freezer, rinse in cold water and use immediately.

– Use frozen berries directly from the freezer. There's no need to thaw them if you use them in baked products, except for pancakes. Pancakes may not cook thoroughly in the center if the berries are frozen. Microwave the amount you need for a few seconds to thaw.

Reames suggests various ways of serving blueberries.

Breakfast. Toss blueberries into your favorite hot or cold cereal; add blueberries when making pancakes, muffins, breakfast breads and waffles; add blueberries to nonfat yogurt, or pile blueberries into a cantaloupe half.

Snacks. Eat blueberries out of hand; make a blueberry blender drink with nonfat yogurt; mix blueberries with nonfat cottage cheese; drop frozen blueberries in sparkling water for a refreshing summer drink.

Meals. Sprinkle blueberries into fruit or green salads; make a tangy blueberry sauce to serve with poultry, fish and meat.

Desserts. Serve a dish of blueberries for dessert; use blueberries as a topping for low-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet, fruit or angel food cake. Bake a blueberry cobbler or pie. Make blueberry sauce and use as a topping on pancakes, waffles, ice cream, pudding or angel food cake.

Blueberry Sauce

Serves 8 (1/4-cup servings)

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup water

l teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions: Add water to berries; heat until warm. Combine cornstarch, sugar and cinnamon; stir into berry mixture. Stir and cook until mixture is thickened and clear. Add lemon juice and mix.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com

Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu

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