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The Little Berry That Could…

The Little Berry That Could…Improve Your Health

By Felicia Platt, MSFS

That so much healthful power is packed into such a small, sapphire sphere is a credit to the frugality of Mother Nature. The blueberry, native to North America, is simply one of the most nutritious foods you can add to your diet. According to a Tufts University study of over 40 fruits and vegetables, blueberries are highest in anthocyanin concentration. Anthocyanin, which gives the blueberry its jewel-like hue, serves as both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent. As an antioxidant, it binds to free radicals--byproducts of the body’s metabolism linked to cancer and other age-related diseases—and prevents them from causing damage to cells. The anti-inflammatory power of anthocyanin helps to prevent hardening of the arteries and strengthens blood vessels, even those in the eyes, resulting in improved night vision. Additionally, studies by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging have determined that a diet rich in blueberries may reverse the short-term memory loss associated with age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This is intriguing evidence that changes in diet can overcome a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease. In the same study, blueberries were also shown to improve the learning capacity and motor skills of older animals by reducing the oxidative stress on nerve cells. When given in a dose comparable to a human eating 1 cup of blueberries a day, performance increased to those of much younger animals. As with cranberries, blueberries also contain condensed tannins, which have a positive effect on urinary tract health, preventing harmful bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urethra and bladder. Moreover, isolated phenolic compounds in blueberries can inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. And finally, if all that isn’t enough, early results from an ongoing study of the Canadian low bush blueberry have shown insulin-like properties, which may someday make it a useful anti-diabetic agent. So the next time you contemplate fighting cancer, improving nerve cell function and short-term memory, as well as preventing hardening of the arteries, don’t reach for a little blue pill, reach for a little blue berry.

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If the thought of healthy food leaves a bad taste in your mouth, here is a tasty way to please your tongue and body at the same time. Blueberry-Almond Coffee Cake Streusel

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup slivered almonds

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp. butter

Cake

1 ½ cups sugar

8 Tbsp. butter, softened

8 ounces low-fat vanilla yogurt

2 large egg whites

1 large egg

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup slivered almonds

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

1 cup low-fat sour cream

½ tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup fresh or frozen (thawed) blueberries

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place 1 cup of slivered almonds on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned and fragrant. To make streusel, combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Measure out ¼ cup of the toasted almonds and chop finely; add to sugar mixture. Cut the butter into small, pea-size pieces and add to the sugar mixture. For the cake, combine flour, the remaining ¾ cup toasted almonds, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a food processor. Process the mixture for 2-3 minutes, until the almonds are finely ground. In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar, butter and vanilla yogurt at medium speed until well blended (about 4 minutes). Add egg whites and egg, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture to mixing bowl, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add the vanilla. Coat the blueberries with a light dusting of flour. Fold the blueberries into the cake mixture, being careful not to break the berries. Pour cake batter into a 9x13-inch pan that has been greased and floured. Top the batter evenly with the streusel topping. Bake at 375°F for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan completely on a wire rack.

About the author:

Felicia Platt lives in Seattle, Washington where she is a Food Technologist for a premium food developer.  When not developing food products for others, Felicia spends time with her husband, Mike, perfecting recipes of their own.