•  Boost your health with blueberriesUSDA
    Boost your health with blueberriesUSDA

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - 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, said a University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

"Blueberries are not only a taste treat but are really considered an antioxidant powerhouse," said Lynda Johnson. "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 what 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.

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

Johnson recommends choosing 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.

Johnson suggests 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.