'Star berries,' tasty and good for you

My mother has been working on trying to eat better, not really a diet, just trying to eat healthier. She is diabetic and right now is doing a good job controlling her insulin with her diet and pills rather than having to take injections.

Her recent food kick has been blueberries. She eats them almost every single day and I didn't really pay much attention to her going on about how good they were for you to be honest.

I love blueberries myself, so learning they were good for you was just a bonus and I didn't really delve into the research of just how good for you they were. They are a fruit so I knew they were better than most things I could be putting into my body. I just didn't know how good until now.

At work this past week our business reporter received an e-mail from Melanie Malone at the Faulkner County Cooperative Extension Service about blueberries.

The reporter asked, since I do columns about food, if I'd like to read it and thought, "Wow, mom has been talking about blueberries to me a lot lately...maybe I should do a column on them." I have in fact written a column about blueberry muffins in the past. How sometimes I crave them but I had never looked into the actual berries being good for you as well as tasty.

Blueberry muffins are one of my favorite "comfort foods" that I like when I'm feeling down. It could be because the blueberries have nutrients my body is craving though.

According to the e-mail from Malone, blueberries were revered by Native Americans and called "star berries" in reference to the blossom end of the fruit, which forms the shape of a five-pointed star. I particularly liked this bit of history she related because I find it interesting to find how far back in our history we can trace certain types of food being introduced into our diets. Potatoes and yams or sweet potatoes, corn, beans and rice are other foods that were introduced to "westerners" throughout the centuries.

The e-mail about blueberries went on to say that the antioxidants found in the little round blueish purple berries can help protect against heart disease, dementia, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. When I read type 2 diabetes, I knew that must be why my mother said her doctor had suggested them, and why she was eating them like they were going out of style.

I was doubly surprised when I read that the USDA has ranked blueberries as the number one antioxidant and that just one serving of blueberries can provide as many antioxidants as five servings of carrots, apples, broccoli or squash.

So if you are a parent having a hard time getting your child to eat their veggies try blueberries and see if they'll take to them better.

For those of you who are trying eat healthy and get the fruit servings needed, blueberries can help a great deal, they are naturally sweet and contain 82 calories per cup.

Malone said in her e-mail that you could pick up locally grown, fresh blueberries at the Faulkner County farmers market.

Some research has suggested that locally grown foods can help allergy sufferers. So if you have an allergy sufferer in your home, you should take a trip to the local farmers market and pick up fruit, vegetables and especially honey there.

Malone gave many suggestions on the purchase and storage of fresh blueberries, some of which I wasn't even familiar with:

* When selecting blueberries, look for those that are plump and firm with a light silvery "bloom." This bloom is a natural protective wax on the berries.

* Always select ripe blueberries, which have a light blue to blue-black color. The deepness of the blue will depend upon the variety.

* After selecting your blueberries, it is essential that you store them properly. Due to their fragile nature, they should be refrigerated immediately after harvest.

* Always store blueberries in a container with a loose cover, or cover slightly with plastic wrap. Depending upon the initial freshness of the berries, they can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days to 1 week.

* Do not wash berries prior to storing them. Moisture from washing allows mold to grow. Instead, wash them just before you use them.

* If you are going to freeze them for later use, spread them in a single layer on a jellyroll pan and place in the freezer. After they are frozen, remove them and pack into freezer bags or containers.

For more information, contact Melanie Malone at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in Faulkner County for your free copy of Arkansas Fresh Blueberries, which contains nutritional information as well as recipes. The office also has canning, freezing and jam and jelly making information as well. You can contact Melanie Malone at 329-8344 or e-mail her at mmalone@uaex.edu.

Along with the information I've shared here from her e-mail, Malone also sent along a recipe for homemade blueberry syrup. If you are like my mother with diabetes you may be able to substitute the sugar with other products like Splenda to get a similar taste if not exact texture though you may be able to add more cornstarch to get that syrup consistency with a product like Splenda, or split the sugar, half Splenda and half sugar.

My Best Blueberry Sauce

One half cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

One third cup water

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

In a 2-qt. saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch; gradually stir in water. Add blueberries; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Serve warm or cold over French toast, pancakes, waffles, bread pudding, or cheesecake.