July is National Blueberry Month

Richard Bogren, Reames, Elizabeth S.  |  6/24/2011 8:54:04 PM

News Release Distributed 06/24/11

Enjoying fresh Louisiana berries is a treat that many people look forward to each year. Blueberries are delicious and provide important nutrients that make them a healthful choice to enjoy at meals or as snacks, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.

A recent study reported by researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge found that consuming 2 cups of blueberries a day lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes for people who have prediabetes and a family risk of diabetes, Reames says. Prediabetes is a condition that occurs when a person’s blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Several studies show that many people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years.

A 2010 study funded by the Agricultural Research Service in Little Rock, Ark., on laboratory mice found that blueberries may help fight atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. The research provides the first direct evidence that blueberries can help prevent harmful plaques or lesions, symptomatic of atherosclerosis, from increasing in size in arteries.

A 2009 study by researchers at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center found that rats that ate a diet rich in blueberries gained health benefits that may lower their risk for heart disease and diabetes. These included lowered cholesterol levels, improved glucose control and decreased abdominal fat. Lowering cholesterol reduces risk of heart disease while glucose control – the body’s ability to convert sugar to energy – is related to diabetes risk. Increased abdominal fat is linked to increased risk for both heart disease and diabetes.

More research is needed to confirm these results in humans, Reames says.

Blueberries also are being studied to determine if they can slow aging and improve brain function.

Blueberries pack high levels of health-promoting antioxidants, Reames says. Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells against damage by free radicals that form in the body. Uncontrolled free radical formation can cause cell damage that may lead to cancer, heart disease, inflammation and other health problems.

“Blueberries also are a good source of vitamin C and fiber,” she says. “One-half cup of blueberries has only 42 calories.”

When it comes to selecting berries, Reames offers these tips:

– Look for berries that are plump and firm with a dark blue color and a frosty bloom.

– Blueberries do not ripen after harvest, so as soon as you buy them, you can eat them.

– Sweetness varies by variety. One pint of berries will provide four to five servings of fresh, uncooked fruit.

Reames also has these tips for storage and preparation:

– Handle fruit gently to avoid bruising. Bruising shortens the life of fruit.

– Sort berries carefully and remove any 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 because they’ll get mushy. Store covered containers of berries in a cool, moist area of the refrigerator, such the vegetable crisper, to help extend the usable life of the fruit. Recommended storage time is three to five days, but unwashed berries may keep up to two weeks when stored properly.

– Before eating berries or using in them your favorite recipe, remove stems, wash berries gently in cool running water and drain.

You can freeze blueberries without washing, Reames says. When washed before freezing, blueberry skins become tough. To freeze, remove stems and and trash, and package them tightly in freezer bags or containers or glass jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Then, seal the container airtight and put it in the freezer.

When you remove blueberries from the freezer, rinse them in cold water and use them immediately.

“You can use frozen berries directly from the freezer,” Reames says. “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.”

Loose-pack frozen blueberries are available year-round, and you can use them in any recipe that calls for fresh blueberries. Because they are washed, they can be used right from the package.

Rick Bogren

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