The Heart Benefit of Berries
The sweet strawberry, the perfect bite-sized blueberry, the luscious raspberry-these palate-pleasing fruits are bursting with flavor. And something more: They contain anthocyanin-a potential heart-protecting chemical. It could be the reason why eating berries may be good for your heart, even helping to prevent a heart attack.
What's in a berry?
Like other fruit, berries are packed with valuable nutrients, such as vitamin C and fiber. Such nutrients help prevent chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. Zoom in for a closer look, though. You'll also find micronutrients called phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are compounds that plants produce naturally. And there are lots of them. You may have heard of a few-beta carotene, folic acid, lycopene. Scientists have only recently started to study phytochemicals and their possible health effects.
Anthocyanin is one type of phytochemical; it's a member of the flavonoid group. It gives berries their vibrant red or blue hue. You can also find it in other similarly colored produce, such as eggplant, black currants, grapes, and red cabbage.
What's the heart benefit?
Scientists analyzing anthocyanin and other flavonoids have noted an interesting link between these chemicals and better heart health. One study found that eating foods rich in anthocyanin was associated with a lower risk for high blood pressure. The effect was strongest among people younger than age 60.
The latest evidence suggests anthocyanin may also help prevent heart attacks. A study in the journal Circulation looked at the food survey data of more than 93,000 women over an 18-year period. Researchers found that women who ate the most foods filled with anthocyanin-namely, strawberries and blueberries-were 32 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack.
How does anthocyanin possess such power? Scientists suspect it may work as an antioxidant. That is, it flushes the body of free radicals-harmful substances that have been singled out as possible promoters of disease. Another theory: The chemical may reduce inflammation in the body, a process linked to heart disease.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.
Adding More Berries to Your Diet
Eating more fruits and vegetables-including berries-may not only help you prevent heart disease, but also other serious conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Experts recommend adults eat at least 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit a day. Below are some tips on including more heart-benefiting berries in your diet:
Plop a dozen or so blueberries on your breakfast cereal or lunchtime salad.
Top your fat-free or low-fat yogurt with slices of strawberry.
Toss some berries and other fruit in a blender with low-fat milk to mix up a flavorful fruit smoothie.
Pack a few handfuls of berries in a small plastic bag for a quick and nutritious afternoon snack.
Nibble on dried berries. They're easily portable. You can also store them longer for when you're craving a tasty treat.
Want more ideas on how to incorporate berries and other fruits and vegetables into your diet? Here's one recipe to try.
American Heart Association - Phytochemicals and Cardiovascular Disease
USDA - Why It Is Important to Eat Fruit