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of Food Reflections
November/December 2004
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Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator & Dietitian


The results looked "berry" good for berries in 2004 when United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers released a list of the top 20 antioxidant-rich foods in a study of over 100 commonly consumed foods tested (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 9, 2004).

Wild blueberries, cultivated blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries took six of the top 11 spots. Here's the complete top 20 list--from highest to lowest in antioxidant activity--based on serving size:

1. Small red beans, (dry, cooked), 1/2 cup
3. Red kidney beans, (dry, cooked), 1/2 cup
4. Pinto beans, (dry, cooked), 1/2 cup
6. CRANBERRIES, 1 cup whole
7. Artichokes (cooked), 1 cup hearts
9. Prunes, 1/2 cup
10. RASPBERRIES, 1 cup
12. Red delicious apples, 1
13. Granny Smith apples, 1
14. Pecans, 1 ounce
15. Sweet cherries, 1 cup
16. Black plums, 1
17. Russet potato, (cooked), 1
18. Black beans (dry, cooked), 1/2 cup
19. Plums, 1
20. Gala apples, 1

"Just like rust on a car, oxidation can cause damage to cells and may contribute to aging," states the American Dietetic Association. Antioxidants may help increase our immune function and protect against cancer and heart disease. They function by neutralizing the damaging effects of "free radicals" that form during cell metabolism as oxygen is burned.

In identifying these foods, researchers cautioned their antioxidant activity in the laboratory may differ from their antioxidant activity in the body. Absorption capacity may vary, and cooking processes may affect antioxidant levels. For example, cooking increased the antioxidant content of tomatoes but decreased levels in carrots. While a food didn't make the top 20 for antioxidant activity, it may still be a source of other health benefits.

Foods offer advantages over supplements in supplying antioxidants. They may provide compounds that offer benefits of which we're presently unaware. Foods also may contain additional substances that work with antioxidants to make them effective.

The American Heart Association (AHA) states, "At this time, the scientific evidence supports a diet high in food sources of antioxidants and other heart-protecting nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts instead of antioxidant supplements to reduce risk of CVD (coronary vascular disease). AHA further advises, "Some studies even suggest that antioxidant supplement use could have harmful effects."

While we wait for more to be known about antioxidants, we already have a good reason to eat berries. They taste good! Here are some recipes to get you started.

Cranberry Apple Crisp .......

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Makes 9 servings

cranberry apple crispThis recipe may be enjoyed with a variety of berries.

(Source: Adapted from Cranberry Apple Crisp, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 5 to 9 a Day for Better Health Program)

5 cups pared, sliced tart apples, about 6 medium apples (See Alice's tip 1)
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (See Alice's tip 2)
1/3 cup sugar


1/2 cup all-purpose flour (See Alice's tip 3)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces

  1. Position oven rack so crisp will bake in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan. (See Alice's tip 4)

  2. In a large bowl, mix the apples and cranberries with the sugar until coated. Transfer to baking pan.

  3. Topping: Mix flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Work in butter until light and crumbly. (See Alice's tip 5)

  4. Sprinkle topping evenly over apples and cranberries.

  5. Bake 45 minutes or until apples are tender. Cool on a wire rack about 15 minutes before serving. If desired, serve with a small scoop of a light ice cream or frozen yogurt (See Alice's tips 6 & 7)

Alice's Tips:

  1. Granny Smith apples work well as a tart apple in this recipe. Leave the skins on if desired.

  2. 1-1/2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries or raspberries may be substituted for the cranberries; 1-1/2 cups of sliced fresh strawberries is another substitution possibility.

  3. One half cup of whole wheat flour may be substituted for the white flour if you like. If desired, instead of using all flour, use 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup quick or old-fashioned oats.

  4. Instead of greasing the pan, spray it with a no-stick cooking spray.

  5. Chilled butter can be shredded with a cheese grater for easier mixing. Combine butter with the dry ingredients by working it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs and there are no large chunks of butter visible.

    As a quicker method of mixing the topping: Place the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add butter and pulse 10 times or until mixture is crumbly.

  6. Test for apple tenderness by inserting the tip of a paring knife into the apples. This leaves smaller cuts in the apples and topping than using a fork.

  7. Serve warm. Limit the TOTAL time the crisp is left at room temperature to two hours. Refrigerate and eat remaining crisp within 3 days. To reheat leftover crisp, warm in a preheated 350 F for 20 - 30 minutes. Heat single servings in the microwave on higher power for 60 - 90 seconds.

Dried Fruit Snack Mix .......

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(Source: Adapted from Sports Mix, National Cancer Institute 5 to 9 a Day for Better Health Program at

For each serving, mix:

  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • 1 tablespoon dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon dried tart cherries (See Alice's tip 1)
  • 1 tablespoon dried blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped nuts
  • 3 tablespoons of a whole grain cereal, such as bite-size shredded wheat or round toasted oat cereal

Combine fruits, nuts and cereal. Carry individual servings in small zip-top snack bags.

Alice's Tip:

  1. If your store doesn't carry all these types of dried fruit, use more of one of the other dried fruits or substitute a different dried fruit.

Blueberry Good Pancakes .......

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berry pancakesUse a whole grain pancake mix or your favorite "from scratch" recipe, and fresh or pourable individually frozen blueberries.

  1. Make pancake batter according to package directions.

  2. Fold into batter 1/2 to 1 cup blueberries per each cup of flour or baking mix in your recipe.

  3. Cook pancakes according to package or recipe directions. For added fruity flavor, top with fruit sauce or berry jam instead of syrup and butter. (See Alice's tip 1)

Alice's Tip:

  1. Though pancakes taste best fresh from the griddle, they can be held briefly as you make others by placing them in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 200 F oven.

Chunky Cranberry Spread .......

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Makes 16 servings, 1 tablespoon each

Experiment with other dried berries or combinations of berries in this recipe!

(Source: Adapted from Chunky Cranberry Spread, American Institute for Cancer Research at

1 8-oz. package low-fat cream cheese
1-2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries (See Alice's tip 1)
1/4 cup chopped blanched almonds or other nut (See Alice's tip 2)
1/2 teaspoon orange zest, preferably fresh (See Alice's tip 3)

  1. Place cream cheese in a medium bowl and allow to soften at room temperature. Mash and work with a fork until texture is light enough to combine easily with other ingredients. (See Alice's tip 4)

  2. Gradually add just enough milk so cheese becomes soft and easy to spread.

  3. Mix in remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days ahead. Flavors will blend and mellow if this recipe is made ahead of time and allowed to refrigerate at least a few hours before serving .

  4. Spread on slices of a whole-grain bread.

Nutritional Information: Makes about 1 1/2 cups, or 1 tablespoon per average slice of bread. Per serving: 36 calories, 2g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 3 g. carbohydrate, 1 g. protein, less than 1 g. dietary fiber, 29 mg. sodium.

Alice's Tips:

  1. Other chopped, dried berries--such as blueberries--or combinations of berries may be substituted for the cranberries in this recipe.

  2. When purchasing "blanched" almonds, this means almonds that have the skin removed. For added fiber, substitute almonds with their skins.

  3. To make orange zest for this recipe, first thoroughly wash the outside of the orange under running tap water and dry with a paper towel. Be careful to just remove the orange portion and leave the more bitter white pith behind. Measure the zest lightly into the measuring spoon; do not pack. For grated zest, a rasplike zester, such as a Microplane® zester, yields a fluffier zest than does the small holes of a regular grater.

  4. Avoid letting cream cheese sit at room temperature over 2 hours TOTAL time. This includes during food preparation and while you're serving the food. To quickly soften 8 oz. of cream cheese, transfer it to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 10 to 15 seconds.

Berry Smoothie .......

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Serves 1

strawberry smoothie(Source: Adapted from Peach Raspberry Smoothie, National Cancer Institute 5 to 9 a Day for Better Health Program at

1 cup unsweetened, frozen raspberries (See Alice's tips 1 & 2)
3/4 cup 100% orange juice (See Alice's tip 3)
1/2 cup fruit-flavored, low-fat yogurt (See Alice's tip 4)

Blend all ingredients well in blender, and drink!


Alice's Tips:

  1. Substitute frozen strawberries, blackberries or blueberries for the raspberries.

  2. Using frozen fruits helps thicken the smoothie. To freeze fresh berries, wash them thoroughly under running tap water, pat dry with clean paper towels and freeze in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Transfer to a freezer bag when frozen. Pour out as needed.

  3. Try different juices, such as pineapple, apple, orange-tangerine and other 100 percent juice blends. For quickly making a variety of flavors of smoothies, keep little 6-ounce cans of juice in your refrigerator.

  4. Your choice of yogurt is limited only by your imagination. If you use plain yogurt, you may need to add 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar, honey or an equivalent amount of a no-calorie sweetener.

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Food Reflections is a FREE monthly e-mail newsletter from the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension and also is archived at It provides a "how-to" message on food, nutrition, or food safety for health professionals, educators, and consumers.

  • Author: Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator.

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