The colorful, little blueberry is mighty big on taste and health, researchers say. It’s also easy to store and to use in baked goods, pancakes, smoothies, salads, salsas and sauces.

Studies in the United States and Canada have found that blueberries “contain natural compounds that help our bodies stay healthy and may help prevent age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and some forms of cancer,” according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Other research has found that a diet rich in blueberries may fight atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries and lower the risk for heart disease and diabetes, said Beth Reames, LSU AgCenter nutrition specialist.

“Blueberries also are being studied to determine if they can slow aging and improve brain function,” Reames said. “Blueberries pack high levels of health-promoting antioxidants,” which are “compounds that protect cells against damage by free radicals that form in the body. Uncontrolled free radical formation can cause cell damage that may lead to cancer, heart disease, inflammation and other health problems.”

Researchers at the Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., have found that blueberries and cranberries contain proanthocyanidins, a substance the researchers think may help prevent urinary tract infection.

Reames and the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council offered some blueberry basics:

•Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, dietary fiber and manganese, and a half-cup has only 42 calories.

•When selecting fresh blueberries, look for firm, plump, dry berries with smooth skins, a dark blue color (blueberries don’t ripen after harvest) and a frosty or silvery sheen. Reddish berries aren’t ripe but can be used in cooking. Sweetness varies by variety.

•When storing, handle berries gently to prevent bruising; sort carefully and remove berries that are too soft or have signs of mold. Refrigerate fresh blueberries as soon as you get them home in their original plastic pack or in a covered, shallow container. Don’t wash the berries until just before use.

•Recommended storage time is about five days, but unwashed berries may keep up to two weeks if properly stored. Before eating berries or using in a recipe, “remove stems, wash berries gently in cool running water and drain,” Reames said.

•Freeze blueberries without washing and make sure they are completely dry. Remove stems and trash, then tightly package the berries in freezer bags or containers or glass jars, leaving ? -inch headroom. Seal airtight and freeze. Remember to rinse them in cold water before using.

•Blueberries can be used directly from the freezer. Reames said they don’t need to be thawed if using in baked goods, except for pancakes which may not cook thoroughly in the center if the blueberries are frozen. Microwave for a few seconds to thaw. If using in a recipe, always measure the berries while they are still frozen.

•Serving suggestions: Add blueberries to your favorite low-fat muffin recipe - about 1 cup for 12 muffins gently stirred in at the end. Eat out of hand. Toss into your favorite hot or cold breakfast cereal. Use in a breakfast smoothie or parfait; pair with fresh mint leaves as a topping for ice cream; sprinkle blueberries and chopped walnuts over dressed mixed greens or spinach; add to nonfat yogurt or a scoop of cottage cheese; pile into a cantaloupe half; drop frozen blueberries into sparkling water for a refreshing drink; make a tangy blueberry sauce to serve with fish, poultry or meat or a sweet sauce to use as a topping on pancakes, waffles, ice cream, pudding or angel food cake. Make jam or jelly.

Below are some recipes to try, including three easy-to-make, low-calorie desserts that require no baking and little time in the kitchen.