Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Got the Message? How We Learn About Health & Nutrition

Lately, the American public has been looking at itself in the mirror. What we see before us is someone overweight or more likely obese; someone with unhealthy eating habits that include large portions, high fat, high sodium, and highly processed food; and someone who either has or will have a litany of preventable diseases. We aren't just unhealthy, we are sick and costing the country a bundle in health care costs.

Last year, the USDA changed dietary guidelines for Americans. The new guidelines recommend focusing on a plant-based diet, limiting sugars and solid fats, and reducing sodium. Perhaps most importantly, while fruit and veggie serving recommendations themselves didn't change, the USDA's conclusion was that we consume too few of them.

This latest message is worth sending, but it had to make its way to consumers. It has had those in the food and nutrition industry asking: how can we increase the public consumption of fruits and vegetables? How can we cut portions and eliminate salt?

To further complicate matters, the challenge may not be solely in the message being heard. For instance, according to a study by Supermarket Guru, 42% of us try to follow the dietary guidelines. As they point out, "try" is no doubt the operative word. Even members of the public who got the message, know the message, and could recite the message like a beat cop reciting his Mirandas, may not know what to do with this information.

The result is a second, equally important question: how do we bridge the gap between what we aspire to do when it comes to healthy eating, and actually doing it? The issue has prompted us to look at a few of the pieces of the nutritional puzzle that work together (and apart) to influence the American consumer.

Suppliers: Heroes & Anti-heroes

Some brands profit from obfuscating their unhealthful ingredients and some proffer outright consumer deception. At the same time, some suppliers use positive messages to penetrate the market. Produce for Better Health Foundation along with the Fruits & Veggies More Matters, recently named their 15 Supplier Role Models and Supplier Champions for 2010. They are food suppliers that were recognized for their positive efforts toward the public health initiative that includes eating more fruits and veggies and less salt and fat. Suppliers like the Wild Blueberry Association, Welch's, the Pear Bureau Northwest, and even McDonald's were lauded for being positive role models when it comes helping get consumers the message and make it easier for them to eat healthy.

While these suppliers are mini gladiators in the amphitheater of changing America's costly health and nutrition habits, we know that information can be both good and bad. One part of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to continue efforts to understand the best way for consumers to get useful point-of-purchase nutrition information. Today, the value of prominent displays, clear labeling, and messages that connect clearly with the consumer are red hot topics that have stakeholders battling it out in the stadium.

Supermarkets: Passive Profiteer or Potential Partner?

Supermarkets can help us eat better, but as we all know, they can also sabotage our efforts. Our stores hold a lot of power, and they may also be holding a lot of untapped potential to connect with their shoppers. And yet, so much of the time we spend shopping for healthy food is still spent avoiding traps.

For example, we know products at eye level aren't necessarily good for us – they are just those being given preferred placement. We know that the basics like eggs and milk are in the back, forcing shoppers to walk a gauntlet of temptation. We even know that new stores have adopted indirect aisle-planning strategies that serve to sabotage our efforts to shop for "perimeter" foods like produce and other whole foods.

Must the supermarkets we frequent to feed our families be our nutritional nemesis? In the same Supermarket Guru poll, almost half of consumers said they weren't sure whether their supermarket made it easy to meet dietary guidelines. The resulting report wielded these challenges: Does your supermarket have a dietitian in the store? Does it offer substitution suggestions such as trying frozen yogurt over ice cream? Does it provide options for meeting guidelines that meet our requirements for good taste?

In short, are our supermarkets passive profiteers or nutritional partners? It seems clear that opportunities exist for stores to take a stronger role in health and wellness – if they are willing. 

Messaging: Plain Talk for a New Century

When supermarkets and suppliers fail, we rely on the information around us to make our own good decisions. But messages about health haven't always been effective. Studies indicate that consumers find it difficult to count calories as a way to keep their nutrition and servings in check; they do not connect with the old pyramid-style guidelines for eating; they fail to understand cryptic nutritional labels and ambiguous health claims on food packaging.

Fortunately, these messages and how they are communicated have begun to change for the better. New guidelines have become increasingly consumer-friendly. Rather than lots of numbers that include grams and calories and fractions, messages are getting straight to the heart of the matter by promoting things like simply eat less, filling plates with color, or changing lifestyle habits like cooking at home and eating fewer processed food.

In one example of the new and improved communication of the health and nutrition message, Fruit & Veggies More Matters conjured up the Half Your Plate concept. In an effort to make serving sizes easy to understand, they urge us to simply fill half our plates with fruits and veggies – that's it. Even National Nutrition Month 2011, which is being recognized during the month of March, focuses on eating right with color – a message that's easy to implement by merely looking down at your plate. Armed with these goals, we can make smarter decisions about what we buy at the store, despite all the possible pitfalls.

Programs: Nutrition from the Top Down & the Bottom Up

Improving health and wellness can sometimes be effective if it comes to us from the top down. Recently, the United States Agriculture Secretary announced that the USDA will fund the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, an effort from the USDA to help children change their eating habits and start new consumer habits. The previously mentioned Let's Move!  program launched by First Lady Michelle Obama aims to solve the problem of obesity within a single generation. Healthy People 2020 was created to establish national health objectives and give communities the tools they need to achieve them. These are just a few examples of top-down programs working to take on a true crisis in health and nutrition.

Smaller-scale programs and bottom-up initiatives in schools, communities and businesses are also making it easier to make choices that help us and our families live better by virtue of being part of them. Many of them exist because someone dared to imagine that those just being born today could grow up in a very different, healthier world.

How did YOU get the message of health?

What message of health and nutrition resonated with you?

Was your mom your messenger? Your doctor? A great book or an inspiring TV personality? Whether it was calorie counting or colorful food, let us know what nutritional messages connected with you – leave us a comment!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First Spring Look: Maine's Wild Blueberry Barrens

A panoramic view of wild blueberry barrens near Meddybemps in Maine's Washington County, taken today, March 24th. Over 60,000 acres of blueberry farmland stretch across Maine, providing an average 70 million pounds of berries each year.  Photos courtesy of Geoffrey Leighton.

Spring is officially here, and for fields being prepared for the wild blueberry harvest, that means the first show of growth which evolves into the astonishing blue blooms that cover the land in late summer.

Maine and Eastern Canada is exclusive territory for wild blueberries. Over 60,000 acres of blueberry farmland stretch across Maine alone, providing an average 70 million pounds of berries each year. Native to these weather-challenged regions, wild blueberries are naturally resilient. They have evolved to grow in acidic soil, thrive through wildly changing temperatures, and use their natural UV protection to survive unshielded in summer sun.

Each wild blueberry crop is the result of a two-year cycle of variable and unpredictable conditions. Crop development is dependent upon the first season’s spring and summer, the extent of potentially injurious frost, the amount of winter snow that provides protection, as well as the next year’s spring and summer weather. Abundant snow is an advantage for wild blueberry production, and this year was a windfall. Snow, in addition to providing protection to the plant, provides plenty of moisture which can increase the size of the bud and the potential to have more fruit per plant.

The plant's heartiness is all part of the mystique of this fabulous fruit: the result is a naturally healthy antioxidant-rich berry with a distinctive taste and variations in color that can't quite compare to its cultivated counterparts in other parts of the world.

 Snowy winters are beneficial to the crop and can mean bigger bud sizes and more fruit per plant. The spring season brings green leaves and white blossoms of fruit before 
late summer turns the fields blue.

These fields would not have seen much activity over the winter months. Growers usually spend little time on the barrens during the winter unless they are engaged in expanding fields or posting farm land to ensure protection from snowmobiles. Families that farm wild blueberry fields would have been doing seasonal winter work or working in other businesses. Some would likely have been engaged in off-season education in an effort to maintain knowledge of farming techniques and regulations, or traveling to farm shows in search of equipment and supplies or to purchase bees. 

While these "first looks" at the spring barrens show them sporting some winter baggage, they will soon come to life and present green leaves and delicate white-pink blossoms. Those blossoms will gradually turn their eponymous blue in late July and early August before turning to a crimson red in the fall.

Here's to a strong season for wild blueberry harvesters!

Read more about wild blueberry growing and harvesting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are You Maxing Out Your Fruits & Veggies?

6 Ways to Strrrrretch Their Nutritional Value

It's the stuff of late-night commercials: What if we could max out on nutrition without maxing out on food? With food prices on the rise and fruit and vegetable serving requirements firmly set in stone, extracting the most nutrition and disease prevention from our food purchases is just good sense. The key is to make the nutrients we are already eating go the extra mile. Is it possible to put the stretch on nutritional value?

It's no dietary miracle, but we found a few legitimate ways to get more super in our superfoods and squeeze more health from our healthy eating. So go ahead –max out, don't pig out. Here's how:

1. Go ahead -- cook it a little.

While we tend to think of raw foods as the most nutritious, it's not always the case. Carrots and tomatoes seem to be the exception: gently cooking them actually allows more nutrients to be released, turning golden veggies nutritional gold. While a sliced tomato can appear to make the perfect nutritional plate, cooking tomatoes, as with sauces, is actually better: it breaks down the cell walls making those beneficial vitamins and phytochemicals more easily available for absorption by the body, and it increases the level of lycopene -- an antioxidant thought to help prevent certain types of cancer, heart disease, and vision loss.

Boil your carrots? Simmer your tomatoes? Crush your garlic? You can find these and some other under-the-radar tips to Boost Your Veggie Power to get the best nutritional bang from famously healthy foods.

2. Chop it up.

While keeping food intact before you prepare it is the best advice (resist the urge to pre-slice or chop for convenience), chopping at the time of preparation can help maximize the absorption of carotenoid nutrients, like those found in carrots. Research indicates that chopping or grating breaks down the plant material: the smaller the particle size, the better the absorption of beta-carotene. That goes for squash, kale, and sweet potatoes too, all great beta-carotene delivery systems.

3. Get the Skin(ny). 

Even the grape-peeling diva Mae West would balk at a request to peel a wild blueberry.  Just as well, since their skins are a must-eat: their high skin-to-pulp ratio is what makes them an antioxidant powerhouse! But when it comes to fruit, some skins are quick to be removed for easy snacking; veggies like eggplant, cucumbers, radish – even potatoes – are often stripped for cooking. In most cases, resist the urge to peel – the skins hold the nutrients, especially when they are dark in color. 

In fact, some nutritional information suggests that even the seemingly non-edible skins of fruits like bananas or kiwi can help combat cancer—and that dumping the stalk and the core of foods means missing out on prevention properties that could be better in our bodies. Here's the scoop on how to eat the nutrient-dense skins of some unlikely foods.

Of course, anticipating eating the skins of fruits and veggies is another good reason to choose organic produce. But be sure to wash fresh fruits and vegetables carefully before cooking and eating either way.

4. Use your fresh, or make use of frozen.

It's a fact of life: time is the enemy. Produce that is sitting in your refrigerator is being drained of its nutrients. What's more, food that sits on trucks during transport and then on grocery store shelves are no less susceptible to this nutritional leakage. The solution? Buy produce as fresh as possible and consume it soon afterward. But if going fresh is just frustrating, there's another alternative for preserving nutritional value: IQF freezing of fruits and veggies preserve all the nutrients of fresh until the moment you want to use them, with no waste. And, they are frozen at their peak, which means no sitting on trucks or shelves – it gives your the best nutrition for your buck and the ultimate convenience.

Did you also know that serving foods promptly is the best way to get the most nutrition? The longer they stand, the more nutrients are lost.

5. Find your superfood's sidekick.

Ready for an anti-anti-fat tip you can get behind? Research suggest that adding a little fat to your tomatoes helps absorption of nutrition. To get the most out of a tomato and boost your lycopene intake, you need only drizzle it with a little olive oil, or add an avocado. It might be nice to know you can forget the low-fat dressing – it's the fat you need to enhance your plate! 

The power of combining food doesn't stop at the tomato. Certain food pairings provide more nutritional benefits and fight disease. The idea is to find the food combinations that create synergy and maximize nutrition benefit.  These ideas from present some dynamic duos that up the nutritional content. Tasty suggestions include spinach salad with mandarin oranges and fresh squeezed lemon dressing (an iron-vitamin C combo), and red wine sangria with mango and kiwi (it's a combination of resveratrol and vitamin E).

You can find out more about synergistic foods for optimum health from our previous post, Food Synergy: Nature's Meal Plan where we give you the background on these nutritional allies.

6. Avoid cooking culprits.

It comes as no surprise that frying food is a way of negating nutritional value. Deep frying causes continuous oxidation of oil, and that is a source of free radicals, those black hat agents that wreak havoc on healthy cells. Protective antioxidants, whether in the food or the oil, are depleted during the process of oxidation, so the benefit is lost, even for vegetables.

The best cooking method to preserve nutrients? Steaming, of course. It preserves both flavor and nutrients. Stir-frying, microwaving, broiling and high-temperature roasting are also good options, with boiling being a nutrient obliterator. (The microwave is sometimes blamed for taking the nutrients out of food, but it may be the water they are cooked in – no evidence yet suggests it’s the microwave itself.)

Eager to max out on health? While integrating these health-enhancing ideas can help put the super in your superfoods, our best advice is not to worry how you're eating your fruits and veggies, as long as they end up on your plate.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The American Plate

Rethinking It Can Change Your Health & Your Life

Plate sizes 002 by Ronmerk, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Ronmerk

Why rethink the plate?

Focusing on the plate means focusing on something concrete. Our health is not about abstractions like calories, pyramids, and nutritional labels, but about what is actually on that circular piece of pottery directly under our faces.

Whether its paper, porcelain, or in the shape of a Chinese take-out container, the plate is essential to our eating. It holds our food, and in some cases, literally guides us. Through regular, realistic consideration of our plate, we can cut carbs, increase veggie intake, reduce calories, increase nutritional value and prevent and manage disease.

It's time to think critically about your serving vessel. Actually looking down at the food you are eating can be an education in portion, color, and origin that can lead you down a road lined with nutritional gold. Here are four ways of rethinking, retooling and re-appreciating your plate.

The Better Plate

For most of us, a better plate means understanding "portion distortion" traps. For example, to help keep portions in check, WebMD shows us that a serving of mashed potato should be the size of a light bulb and a tablespoon of mayo is the size of a poker chip, and such visual renderings can be a wake up call. That a muffin can be four serving sizes and a large soda can be at least two is something that goes unnoticed with mindless eating and eating on the run. There are plenty of ideas for helping to keep us honest when it comes to portions, like these ideas from MSNBC that include breaking down leftovers, or divvying up purchases of snack foods before the mindless eating hits that can turn bowls bottomless.

Another popular way to achieve potion control is putting the shrink on the crockery itself. Research indicates that smaller dinner plates actually translate into smaller meals without affecting satisfaction. It makes sense—calories saved when your plate goes from 12 to 9 inches can add up over time, and studies show we eat what's in front of us regardless of our appetite. One portion control tip famously put into practice by the reputedly thin French is leaving food on the plate, something best practiced when dining out. "Cleaning the plate" is an antiquated maxim of misdirected moms, not for the nutritionally conscious that can see when their devotion to moderation is being compromised. Leave it – Mom won't mind. A few bites can save 100 calories; leaving a quarter of your meal can save 500.

In a supersize world, understanding portions can be an important epiphany, but there are other ways to assess a plate that don't involve portions. It has to do with the origins of the foods we are eating. What part of your plate has a local origin? What part is farm raised? What is organic and what is processed? How far did it travel and who prepared it? The What's On Your Plate project addresses some of these critical questions through the eyes of two eleven-year-olds from New York City as they go on a quest to understand what’s on all of our plates. 

The Divided Plate 

We have the Swedes to thank for introducing us to The Plate Method, a simple eating system that was developed for the treatment and prevention of diabetes and also has weight loss benefits. Another method that focuses on serving sizes, it aims to simplify the eating life for those managing diabetes. By focusing only on sizes and categories of servings, originators of the Plate Method contend that healthy eating will follow.

The method works by dividing a 9-inch plate into sections that can be devoted to non-starch veggies (half), a section devoted to lean meat, fish or chicken (a fourth), and a section for bread, rice and noodles (a fourth). A half bowl of fruit and low-fat or skim milk can be added. Evidence shows it can help diabetes patients, and it can be a helpful, simple tool for those overwhelmed with a new diagnosis and need a plan but find it difficult to do it without help. 

The New American Plate

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, the key to healthy eating is all about the plate, not about pyramids. They urge a fresh way of the thinking when it comes to the plate, one termed The New American Plate. The New American Plate is meant to begin an evolution of the old American plate. You know the one – it features an oversize piece of protein and a giant lump of starch with a satellite of tiny veggies. This old plate has been serving up sizes well beyond those recommended by the USDA, and the growing portions are ready for a makeover. By using these guidelines, the AICR maintains that we can lower our cancer risk and manage weight at the same time.

The New American Plate includes guidelines for what percentage is filled by what food, and allows foods that pack the best nutrition punch to take over. It's all about recognizing and using standard portions, not oversize ones. Meals are made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits whole grains or beans, and 1/3 (or less) is made up of animal protein.  Learn more about the New American Plate, at the AICR website.

The Colorful Plate

We know one of the tenets of nutrition is to put a rainbow on your plate. It seems that when it comes to a fashionable dinner plate, not-beige is the new black. Are the foods on your plate assuming a palette of beige and brown? That's the color of meat and potatoes, and it could indicate your plate is out of style.

Just in time to help you start thinking about plate aesthetics, March is National Nutrition Month®. The theme this year is "Eat Right With Color", and it's meant to spread the word about naturally occurring colors in fruits and veggies that are packed with nutrition. The goal is to be mindful of what is on your plate for every meal of the day, and challenge yourself to brighten it up. You know the color run-down if you read this blog: blue foods are colored by natural plant pigments called anthocyanins; leafy greens have beneficial lutein, folate and vitamin B; orange and yellow foods contain beta-carotene; and reds – consider the nutritious tomato – are full of valuable lycopene. The broader your rainbow, the more nutrition and disease prevention you are putting in your body. Find out more about Eat Right with Color.

Time to improve your plate quotient? Whether you prefer a portion makeover to being origin conscious or you're leaning toward a color overhaul, knowing your plate means coming to grips with what you choose to fill your nutritional tank. Being conscious of your crockery is the first step to rethinking your personal plate in a way that will last you a long, healthy lifetime.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tart Me Up! Sweet Treats for Savory Times

Everyone's talking about how fruit, especially the very versatile blueberry, can be a featured ingredient in your non-dessert recipes, and that's a rumor worth spreading. The more fruit servings we rack up in our daily diet the better, and if carrot cake can be a veggie-laden dessert favorite, then hey, fruits and berries can be known for elevating favorites like pork, chicken and fish. 

But there's no question that sometimes dessert is the best way to fully appreciate a fruit. Enter what could be the tastiest experiment for putting healthful ingredients into luscious packages ever. It's the tart, on colorful display in  Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts: 150 Recipes for Old-Fashioned and Modern Favorites. With examples of sweet tooth gratifiers that include Lattice-Top Blueberry Pie, Apricot-Pistachio Tart, and Cheddar-Crust Apple Pie, it’s a fruit lover's romp. Recipes also embody full tart expressions of non-fruit love in the form of Summer Squash Lattice Tart and Leek and Olive Tart.

In celebration of the book, has a new contest that involves all things tart.  And get this: the winner will be flown to New York City on Monday, March 28th, where their winning recipe will be featured on The Martha Stewart Show. That's simply tart-errific! The deadline was extended to March 12th, so there's still time. Get details at the food52 Best Late Winter Tart Contest.

A Wild Combination

While we're on the subject of dessert, thanks to The Record for reminding their readers about our own decadent dessert from the Wild Blueberry Dessert file. If you haven't had chocolate and blueberries together, we suggest you do so. After all, cocoa has assumed superfood status for its high antioxidant content. At least that's what a study conducted by Hershey's indicates. (Hm. Uh, well, when it comes to dessert there are some things you just don't want to overthink.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Billionaire Banks on Blueberries for Longevity

Imagine you are an 87-year-old billionaire keen on living until you are 125. What food holds your interest? Why it's blueberries, of course. David Murdock, businessman and Forbes billionaire (he comes in at #374 on their list) was profiled in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine in an article that focuses on his quest for health and longevity and his fascination with this promising little blue fruit.

The businessman and owner of fruit and veggie marketer Dole is responsible for vitalizing the company and creating the Dole Nutrition Institute to teach the benefits of a plant-based diet to promote health and prevent disease. Murdock has devoted $500 million dollars toward a mammoth scientific center near his home in North Carolina that is dedicated to plant research and, specifically, their life-extending powers.

Part of Murdock's grand plan included bringing distinguished researcher and member of the scientist and researcher collective known as The Bar Harbor Group, Mary Ann Lila, to the research center. It allows her access to equipment that would make anyone with a passion for blueberry research reel with delight. For example, Lila is mentioned in the NYT piece for her work with high-powered nuclear magnetic-resonance machines, which analyze compounds on a molecular level. She is using them to look for the unknown natural compounds in blueberries that will speed efforts to maximize the fruit’s medicinal properties.

Wild About Health spoke with Lila in September about her work as the Director of the Plants for Human Health Institute and her role as a David H. Murdock Distinguished Professor. Her dedication to revealing even more of the blueberry's nutritional mysteries has lead efforts that aim to uncover major scientific discoveries in the fields of health and nutrition. She continues to contribute to research into the connection between blueberries and Parkinson's, metabolic syndrome, obesity and diabetes. She views blueberries as most powerful when used as a preventative for general preventative treatments that bolster overall immunity and enhance metabolism.

Murdock's quest to find the key to life extension has Lila well-placed in his corner: part of her research includes mapping the fruit's genome in an effort to ultimately allow for enhanced breeding lines to develop a fruit with more concentrated health benefits.

A Long, Healthy Life

While living to be 125 may be the goal for some, what good is it if you can't enjoy it? Most of the advantages associated with wild blueberries are related to living a disease-free, healthy life. While life-extension is one benefit of optimum health, disease prevention and anti-aging associated with maintaining youth by combating age-related diseases and ailments is the benefit we should be most concerned with.

We've heard it from those around us—it may have even come out of our own mouths: I don't want to get old. We're afraid of getting old because we fear losing our eyesight, our hearing, and our mobility. But good health practices – evidence suggests specifically eating berries – helps us avoid all that.

Your brain, your heart, your eyes and your susceptibility to cancer all go together. According to Superfood expert Steve Pratt, longevity and overall health go hand in hand. "Rarely do you see a brain that’s top notch and poor eyesight. It’s good for the eyes, it’s good for the brain and if it’s good for the brain it’s good for the heart." The goal is not getting into the Guinness Book of World Records for our age, but it is to keep the body working at its best, and living healthily as long as we can. 

Would Murdock approve of these Blueberry Blintzes?

While the health-conscious billionaire eschews sugar (the recipe includes agave) the egg whites, Greek yogurt and blueberries pack a nutritional punch that makes this Healthy Blueberry Blintzes only sound decadent. Be sure to use wild blueberries for optimum nutrition – they provide the highest level of antioxidants compared with most other fruits, including their cultivated cousins.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TED2011 Conference Has a Berry Big Idea

You may know it as the gathering of the most innovative idea makers in the fields of technology, entertainment, design and beyond. It's the widely celebrated TED conference, which this year lands in Long Beach for TED2011 and features the latest assembly of the world's most compelling and notable thinkers, speakers, and performers all sharing their ideas—some which aim to change the world.

A recent story in Wired Magazine about the conference features a world-changing idea from Chicago chef Homaro Cantu. His big idea comes from berries: specifically the so-called "miracle berry", a West African berry that looks like a cranberry but comes with the peculiar quality of binding to the sour and bitter receptors in the mouth. The result is that the mind can be tricked into thinking what we're eating is sweet, no matter if it's bitter, sour or completely tasteless. For example, biting into a lemon mixed with miracle berries would mean taking pleasure in a mouthful of sweetness.

Because the berry can turn what would normally be inedible ingredients into palatable food, Cantu's idea involves using the berry to help feed people in famine-stricken regions. Mixing the berry with wild, bitter grasses, which are plentiful but inedible because of their taste, would transform it into something edible, thereby making it a viable food source.

This nascent idea could have other possibilities for those who navigate a world where food is plentiful. The miracle berry can fool our tongue by adding a little sweet to foods that are better for us and shifting our cravings away from sweet foods that are bad for us. The berry can be used to sweeten water, for instance, changing our craving for a soda into contentment with plain water – its taste bud voodoo makes us think we're drinking something sweet. 

A ingenious residual benefit to Cantu's research involves successful experimentation with the berry to eliminate the metallic flavor that chemotherapy patients taste in food. The result would help those coping with chemotherapy to enjoy food and gain much-needed weight.

TED-Inspired Thinking in Your Kitchen

Cantu espouses a big idea that holds promise for many of the world's most dire food challenges. We can do our part to change the world as well, by using berries to change our health. Cantu reminds us that berries have a myriad of purposes (keep a frozen bag in the freezer—as tasty and nutritious as fresh) for those focused on better health and disease prevention. Here's some berry voodoo that can turn you into a health visionary in your kitchen, no miracle required:

Bathe your Meal in Berries. Studies have indicated that the adverse effects of food occur during absorption, following a meal.  One of the paradoxes of this absorption has been observed widely in France. This “French paradox” results in populations that eat a high saturated fat diet but do not have much cardiovascular disease.

The French, as it happens, bathe their meals in wine. The principle is the same no matter your geography. Red wine has the same nutritional profile as berries do, and have benefits for eyesight, brain function, cardiovascular health, even some forms of cancer. Bathe your meals in berries by pairing a meal with juice, having a cup of berries with lunch, or using berries to add excitement to entrees such as fish, chicken or poultry (wild blueberries offer the best palate-pleasing topping for proteins).

Berry Synergy. Besides a near-perfect nutritional punch, Superfood guru Dr. Steven Pratt maintains that some berries also have a remarkable “synergy” with other food, making them perfect for combining. “If you have blueberries plus walnuts for brain health, that’s better than just walnuts alone,” he said. “It’s not one plus one is two. It’s one plus one is three," said Pratt. Read more about food synergy.

Making the "Paleo" Diet Sweeter. Recent interest in the so-called Paleo diet gets its compelling headlines from putting the focus on massive meat servings and antics like pulling SUVs to mimic bison hunting activity. But the principles of "caveman" eating is something healthy eaters have known well before the recent buzz. The idea is that the human body has the same genetic makeup now as it did in the Stone Age, before processed food and non-food items that are delicious and devoid of nutrition filled our grocery store shelves and our plates.

The more modern our lifestyle and food choices are, the more we need berries to counteract our choices. While bison was available to superior hunter-gatherers, berries have been readily available throughout human history to even the worst hunters, and they are a great way to let our bodies know that even though it’s the modern age, we are giving it what it needs.

Sweet! Better with Berries. Sugar isn't inherently evil, but its presence surrounds us, and the processed forms it takes are deliberately created to reel in our taste buds. But we don't have to stop loving the sweet. Berries offer sweet indulgences that are naturally satisfying. For instance, if you are making smoothies, berries serve as a miracle ingredient of great taste. No need to buy processed shakes when adding blueberries or raspberries to whey or soy powder makes a delicious, natural drinkable meal.

Whether we're smoothie freaks or not, the sweet tastes of dessert reigns for almost everyone with a stomach. If berries are not a primary ingredient in your desserts, you're missing natural flavor and nutrition. Wild blueberries offer variations in flavor that range from savory to sour, blackberries and raspberries provide major tartness, and strawberries are famous for their own mildly delicious smack. Don't wait for summer to pile on the berries to satisfy your sweet tooth. Go frozen and indulge all year long.

Southern Living has 21 berry desserts.

Chatelaine has a round-up of delicious berry recipes.

The Wild Blueberry Association features big taste with Wild Blueberry-inspired desserts and entrées for berry-bathing all year long.

See what's happening at TED2011 this week.