I love a smoothie loaded with fresh or frozen berries. Now, new research suggests consuming blueberries daily could protect against a range of health problems including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Regular consumption of the berries over an eight-week period can improve or prevent metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. It increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and other conditions affecting blood vessels.
On their own, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity can potentially damage the blood vessels, but having all three together is particularly dangerous.
Berries are rich in polyphenols – antioxidants that protect cells in the heart and help lower blood pressure. This means they may help reduce damage to the lining of blood vessels and tackle glucose intolerance – excess sugar in the blood that can lead to diabetes.
In the study, published in the journal the Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, specially bred obese lab rats were fed a diet of blueberries – the equivalent of two cups a day for a human. The researchers found this improved the relaxing and constricting in the blood vessels (endothelial function), which had a significant impact on blood flow and blood pressure.
Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Maine and a co-author of the study, said: ‘Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors characterised by obesity, hypertension [high blood pressure], inflammation, high cholesterol, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, and endothelial dysfunction.
‘Many substances found in food have the potential to prevent metabolic syndrome, thus reducing the need for medication and medical intervention.’
She added that previous research had shown the heart benefits of the ‘polyphenol-rich’ wild blueberry, using rats who had high blood pressure.
This study used rats whose bodies act in a similar way to humans.
Professor Klimis-Zacas added this study showed that eating wild blueberries long-term could normalise inflammation and improve endothelial function. But it’s best to eat the berries raw. Previous research has found that cooking in pies or muffins could reduces their disease fighting nutrients. Heating the fruit affects the levels of some polyphenols – which give them their ‘superfood’ credentials – potentially reducing their ability to cut the risk of heart attack, sooth inflammation and sharpen thinking. Experts say eating blueberries raw is the best way to get as much nutritional benefit from them, whereas baking them into breads, muffins or pies can cut their polyphenol levels by up to a fifth.
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