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> Pick up a pear

Among the most elegantly shaped edibles, pears have long been classic subjects for still-life artists. But the elegance of these botanical siblings of the apple and rose does not end with their looks. Their texture is unique -- grainy but buttery and crisp. They have a special affinity with foods as diverse as cheese and chocolate, raspberries and bitter greens. Pears take to preparation in myriad ways. Poached, baked, sauted, steamed and pureed, or stewed, pears may be at their peak when fully ripe (pears ripen best off the tree, at room temperature) and raw.

Nutritionally, pears supply fiber and vitamin C. Functionally, pears contain antioxidants not only as vitamin C but from the flavonoid quercetin, which diminishes the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing atherosclerotic plaques. It is also anti-inflammatory and lowers blood pressure. By all such mechanisms, it protects the heart and blood vessels, making it a boon to blood flow in the brain.

Now, Dutch researchers report, pears, along with apples, may specifically benefit the brain by protecting against stroke. A large, 10-year study found that people consuming the most white-flesh fruits and veggies -- mainly pears and apples -- had a risk of stroke that was 52 percent lower than did those who consumed few white-flesh foods.

There are more than 3,000 varieties of pears. Not all are in wide cultivation. But those that are make pears available year-round. Protecting the brain is always in season.

> New spin on spuds

Start thinking of the potato as a health food.

If "chips" or "french fries" is the first thing you think of when it comes to potatoes, it's time to break the association. I'll forgo the lecture on how unhealthy they are, given the oil they're cooked in and the salt they hog. Instead, I'll point out that potatoes can be savory and satisfying in so many ways that consuming them fried signals a lack of imagination.

Slowly, the reputation of the potato is undergoing rehabilitation from dietary villain to nutritional hero. Not only do potatoes supply some classy protein, but they're also loaded with vitamin C and one of the B vitamins, B6, especially good for the brain and nervous system. Of additional note: New potatoes have a thoroughly respectable standing on the glycemic index.

Potatoes are also rich in potassium, a mineral often lacking in the American diet but which helps regulate blood pressure, bone strength and muscle and nervous system function. A recent report in the Archives of Internal Medicine links high intake of potassium with reduced mortality from all causes. Now comes news that potatoes do even more to protect the brain. They minimize blood pressure, even in overweight people, reducing the risk of stroke through additional channels, namely chemical components that act much like the anti-hypertension drugs ACE inhibitors.

Remember Mr. Potato Head? He was years ahead of his time.

Compiled from News wire sources