Friday, October 31, 2014

Blueberries possess multitude of health benefits

Posted on May 26, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross

Food & Nutrition

Blueberries of any variety are good for you. There are at least five health benefits to eating blue. First is brain health: Ongoing brain research shows that blueberries may improve motor skills and actually reverse short-term memory loss that comes with aging. The second plus for the blueberry is that research shows that blueberry compounds may inhibit all stages of cancer. Blueberries also are a protector and can help when it comes to preventing heart disease and repairing damage from strokes. The blueberry, like the cranberry, may help prevent urinary tract infections. The fifth bonus is that research around the world has indicated that blueberries may improve vision and prevent tired eyes.

At the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, the Home and Family Arts department hosts a “Bursting with Blueberries” contest sponsored by Blueberry Park, Elkhart. This contest presents an opportunity for you to practice and add more blueberries to your healthy-eating plan.

Even though blueberries are not yet in season, they will be by the time the fair starts. The blueberry has a long harvest time, growing from May to September, with peak supplies in July and August. We can find blueberries year-round in the produce and freezer sections of most local grocery stores. If you’d like to practice for the contest, don’t forget, your Purdue Extension Elkhart County staff is ready and willing to be your taste-testers.

When learning about foods I also enjoy learning about their history. What most of you pick and purchase in the grocery store are cultivated varieties and date only from the early 20th century. Wild blueberries, which are also round, dark blue berries, are smaller than our cultivated variety, and grow wild in Scandinavia, the British Isles, Russia and North and South America.

The wild blueberries may be small but they pack a healthy punch. U.S. Department of Agriculture studies show that wild blueberries rank number one in antioxidants activity compared to more than 20 other fruits. Since most of us are eating cultivated blueberries it is good to know that they are right behind the wild ones when it comes to providing antioxidants.

When selecting berries, choose firm, plump berries with a silvery bloom; they should not have stems attached. Avoid juice-stained containers and/or soft berries. When it comes to storage, refrigerate fresh berries for up to two weeks and wash just before using. To freeze fresh blueberries, do not wash. Pack rigid plastic containers or freezer bags. You can also place single layers on trays for individual quick freeze and then place frozen berries in containers, removing as much air as possible. Frozen berries will keep at least a year. When you are ready to use them, rinse the berries just before using and place in a strainer to remove as much water as possible. They don’t have to be defrosted before using.

Fresh or frozen blueberries can be added to cereal, smoothies, salads and dinner entrees. Just a half cup is all you need to satisfy one of your recommended five-a-day servings of colorful vegetables and fruits. Fresh uncooked blueberries are enjoyed as is, or a part of snacks or any meal. When blended with other berries, such as raspberries and strawberries, they make a simply prepared, visually appealing and delicious fruit cup. Blueberries also add color and flavor to fruit salads, yogurt, ice cream, muffins, and pancakes. They also add sweetness to pies, tarts, cobblers, puddings, coffee cakes, tea breads and other baked desserts.

Bring your favorite blueberry dish to the fair this year and enter the “Bursting with Blueberries” contest. Your recipe can be anything in which the main ingredient is blueberries. Bring your entry to the Home and Family Arts building between 11 and 11:45 am. Friday, July 26. Open judging is scheduled for noon. Blueberry Park, Elkhart, is awarding gift certificates for first, second and third place. Additional rules and regulations can be found in the 2013 Home and Family Arts Open Class booklet. To obtain a copy, visit the Purdue Extension Elkhart County office located inside Gate 2 on the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds, or visit our website at: www.ces.purdue.edu/elkhart.

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross is county extension director and an extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County, 17746 C.R. 34, Suite E, Goshen, IN 46528. She can be reached at 574-533-0554 or lienhart@purdue.edu.