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Berries have long been known to pack big health benefits in their small size. According to Harvard researchers eating at least three servings of blueberries and strawberries every week can save women from heart attacks.
Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom examined the berry-eating habits of 93,600 women between the ages of 25 and 42. The women were part of the Nurses' Health Study II. They completed questionnaires about their diet every four years for 18 years.
In their study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association the researchers concluded that women who ate three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries per week reduced their risk of heart attack by as much as one-third.
Women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries reduced their risk of a heart attack by 32% compared to women who ate berries once a month or less.
And it really has to be berries. They make the difference. Women who otherwise ate a diet rich in other fruits and vegetables did not enjoy the same reduced heart attack risk.
How do berries help lower heart attack risk?
Blueberries and strawberries contain high levels of naturally occurring compounds called dietary flavonoids. These compounds are also found in tea, chocolate, grapes, wine, and other fruits and vegetables.
According to the researchers, a specific sub-class of flavonoids, called anthocyanins, may help dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque and provide other cardiovascular benefits. Anthocyanins are found primarily in red, blue and purple fruits and vegetables such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and eggplant.
The study focused on blueberries and strawberries because they are the most popular berries in the United States. Researchers speculated that other foods could produce the same results (think raspberries and blackberries). But because of their popularity, blueberries and strawberries can easily be incorporated into what women eat every week.
The researchers believe that making one simple dietary change, i.e., increasing berries in your diet, could have a significant impact on preventing heart attacks in women.
During the course of the study, 405 heart attacks occurred and the researchers showed that the earlier you start eating berries the better. By eating the berries while you're still young, you can benefit by reducing your heart attack risk later in life.
In prior studies, blueberries were also found to:
- guard against high blood pressure
- help prevent cancer
- improve insulin sensitivity
- reduce cardiovascular risk factors.
And other studies have found that strawberries:
- Contain antioxidants that boost blood capacity
- May be useful in treating metabolic syndrome
- Reduce atherosclerosis markers in people with metabolic syndrome
Blueberries and strawberries are abundant in spring and summer. Frozen berries work just as well the rest of the year.
Just one caveat. Many berries are heavily treated with pesticides. Always choose organic blueberries or strawberries to be safe.
Have you had your berries today?