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Berries are the bright and flavorful superstars of the fruit world. They are an incredibly rich source of antioxidants, polyphenols, prebiotic fiber, and micronutrients. All of which help to keep your heart healthy.
Berries have been in the news before for their ability to protect the brain against neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s (1), (2). But these superfoods are also gaining renown for how they can keep your heart healthy.
There are 5 big ways the natural compounds in berries can benefit your heart.
Berries are most famous for their high concentration of antioxidants. This includes antioxidants like anthocyanins, quercetin, vitamin C and ellagic acid.
Antioxidants play a crucial role in both keeping your heart healthy and preventing heart disease. That’s because they protect your body from one of the more common causes of heart disease: the oxidation of cholesterol (3).
When LDL cholesterol oxidizes in the body, it can contribute to the buildup of fatty plaque on the walls of your arteries, called atherosclerosis, increasing the risk of heart attack. That’s why it’s important to get plenty of protective antioxidants in your diet.
Researchers for the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study found that those eating the highest levels of berries had a substantially lower risk of cardiovascular disease (4).
Berries are also a rich source of a group of compounds called polyphenols which have antioxidant and disease-fighting properties.
Evidence suggests that polyphenols in berries can reduce the risk of several other diseases that greatly increase the risk of heart disease (5).
These risk factors include diabetes and obesity. Animal studies show the deep color (anthocyanins) found in berries can help reduce body fat accumulation and slow down the rate at which your body digests and absorbs sugar (6).
Because polyphenols may lower the risk factors for diabetes and obesity, the risk for heart disease is also reduced.
It’s still a common belief that high cholesterol is the cause of heart disease. But cholesterol has a complex role in the body (we actually also need it).
Increasingly, scientists and doctors are looking at chronic inflammation as having a significant effect on heart disease (7).
Reducing inflammation is one way to help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. This is where berries come into play. The polyphenols and anthocyanins in berries have anti-inflammatory effects. This may explain why studies show berries may decrease the risk of heart disease (4).
Berries are a great natural source of prebiotic fiber. This prebiotic fiber can help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.
So why is this important?
Scientists are only now beginning to understand the extent to which gut microbes affect our health. The most surprising recent finding on gut bacteria is their link to heart health.
A ground-breaking study in 2017 found that people with heart disease had significantly fewer healthy bacteria in their gut and reduced strain diversity (8). So, gut bacteria play an important role in heart health.
While probiotics add good bacteria to your body, you also need prebiotics to cultivate good gut health. That’s because prebiotic fiber is the food your good bacteria need to thrive. And berries are full of prebiotic fiber (9).
It’s well known that high blood pressure is associated with heart disease (10). Chronic high blood pressure can cause your heart muscles to thicken.
This results in less effective muscle relaxation between heart beats and an increased heart rate. Over time, this can increase your risk of heart failure.
A healthy heart needs a healthy lifestyle and berries are one of the most nutritious foods to include in your diet as they are packed with antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals.
A large study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that those consuming anthocyanin-rich berries had a reduced risk of developing high blood pressure (11).
If you want to add berries to your diet for the heart-healthy benefits, you really should buy organic. Conventionally grown berries are frequently sprayed with pesticides that can be harmful to health.
Berries are a fantastic source of antioxidants, polyphenols and prebiotic fiber. Evidence shows these nutrients may reduce the risk of heart disease in multiple ways.
To get the most benefit, eat berries at least three times per week, and aim for a variety of berries to get all the different types of nutrients.