All Posts tagged heart

Blueberries Protect Against Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Belly Fat

It is hard to hate a blueberry.  That small, sweet bead of a fruit is sweet and delicious, and now new research shows it is good for you as well. Blueberries have been known to be good for your heart and brain function, but emerging research is also showing them to help prevent diabetes, arthritis, and belly fat.

One study presented at a Dieticians of Canada conference showed that men who drank a cup of wild blueberry juice every day for 3 weeks had less inflammation and insulin sensitivity, two factors that, when abnormal, can contribute to arthritis and diabetes.  In fact, most of the men noticed a slight improvement in glucose and insulin control.  This is why a professor at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada suggests people eat half a cup of fresh or frozen wild blueberries a day.  Previous research from that same university found that feeding wild blueberries to rodents with high blood pressure helped lower their blood pressure.  It has not been determined if it has the same affect on humans.

Another study conducted by the University of Michigan and presented at Experimental Biology 2009 showed that rats who were bred to be obese had lost abdominal fat, lowered cholesterol, and improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity after eating blueberries for 3 months.  Fat in the belly area pads internal organs and releases inflammation-producing hormones.  More common in men than women, experts have long been convinced that those who carry excess weight in the belly region are at higher risk for some pretty serious health problems, even if they have a normal body mass index.

The most amazing thing about the University of Michigan study was the benefits occurred even when the diet was not all that heart healthy, though the benefits of the blueberries were higher in those that ate a low fat diet.  Besides all the other benefits to health, the group that ate a low fat diet had a lower body weight, lower total fat mass and reduced liver mass than those who consumed a high fat diet.  An enlarged liver is linked to obesity and insulin resistance, something lots of us deal with – fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome are common because of diets high in fat.  The researchers believe that their results show blueberries may have an impact on how the body stores and processes glucose for energy; and this reduces the risks of developing diabetes or heart disease.

Another study that looked at how blueberries affected men who are at a risk for heart disease backs up the University of Michigan study.  A researcher at the Cardioprotection Research Laboratory found that blueberry intake affected the genes related to fat burning and storage.  By looking at muscle tissue, they were able to see genes that were altered in relation to glucose uptake.  It is believed that the naturally occurring phytonutrients in blueberries called anthocyanins are what makes them help ease these serious health conditions.

Overall, it is important to realize how diet can have a tremendous impact on your health.  Fruits and vegetables can do wonders for our health, and they don’t come with a two-page list of side effects. To me, with low calories and no side effects, blueberries seem to be an easy, natural way to improve your health, especially if you are at risk for heart disease.  There are a lot of ways to enjoy this delicious fruit.  Fresh out of the container, in juice or on cereal, in muffins, even distilled into a compote.  The great thing about blueberries is that they keep their nutritional value, even after being frozen.  When you buy blueberries, look for ones that are fresh, locally or organically grown, with a firm feeling and lively color.  The deeper the color, the more antioxidants the fruit brings to the body.  To get the best bang for your buck, grab the wilder variety of blueberry whenever you can.  The berries come in two types – ones grown out in fields or existing in the wild (low bush variety), or those grown in greenhouses (high bush variety).  The wild variety are smaller, tend to taste better, and have more antioxidants than the greenhouse variety.  Because they are grown in the wild, they are exposed to more environmental challenges, so they produce more bioactive compounds that benefit people when they eat them.  If wild blueberries aren’t in season or available at your store, consider looking for unprocessed wild blueberry juice at a health food store.  You can often find wild blueberries in your store’s freezer section as well.   Try to buy organic blueberries.  A study looking at berries grown in New Jersey found that those grown organically were sweeter and contained up to 50 percent more antioxidants than those treated with chemicals.  Another study published in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine found that eating blueberries with milk impairs the fruit’s antioxidant power.  Enjoy the fruit with a cup of water instead.  So the next time you go to the farmer’s market or other fruit store, buy a container of blueberries, your body will thank you.


Chocolate, Good for Your Heart

With Valentine’s Day this past weekend, I’m sure many of you received chocolates from your special someone.  They probably wanted the chocolates to touch your heart – they may not have been thinking it would do that in more than one way.  The thoughtfulness of that someone may warm your heart, but the chocolate itself may make your heart work better.

Dark chocolate, in particular, has been shown to reduce blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol (LDL) by up to 10%.  Because chocolate is rich in flavonoids, it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Flavonoids are plant compounds with potent antioxidant properties.  Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals, which can cause damage that leads to heart disease. Flavonoids in cocoa have also been found to prevent fat-like substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and clogging the arteries. Other foods that contain high amounts of flavonoids include red wine, tea, cranberries, peanuts, strawberries, apples, and many other fruits and vegetables.

Another benefit of chocolate is it helps the body process nitric oxide, a compound critical for healthy blood flow and blood pressure.  Nitric oxide causes arteries to dilate lowering blood pressure.  Red meat, fish, olive oil, nuts, and pomegranate juice also help the body to process nitric oxide.

Chocolate is made up of 3 kinds of fats, only one of which negatively affects cholesterol levels.  Oleic acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil.  The second fat is stearic acid, which is a saturated fat that research shows has a neutral effect on cholesterol.  Palmitic acid is the third fat found in chocolate, and it is a saturated fat which can raise cholesterol.  Therefore, only 1/3 of the fat in chocolate is bad for you.

In order to choose the healthiest chocolate, don’t assume that the higher cacao percentage, the better the chocolate is for you.  Where the cocoa beans were grown plays a big part as well.  On average, cocoa beans grown in Ecuador, Columbia, and on the Ivory Coast have almost twice the flavanoid content of beans from the Dominican Republic and Peru.  Also, the Amazon and Forestaro varieties of cocoa beans are higher in flavanoids than the Criollo variety.

Alkalization of cocoa powder decreases the flavanoid content.  Most cooks often prefer the smoother taste of alkalized or “dutched” cocoa.  However, the dutching process dramatically decreases the flavanoid content.  For maximum flavanoid content, choose un-dutched cocoa powder.

Preliminary research suggested that mixing milk and cocoa might diminish the bioavailability of flavanoids in cocoa, but several recent studies have shown no significance in flavanoid absorption from cocoa made with or without milk.  This is good news for those of you, like me, who enjoy milk chocolate.

So as you’re enjoying the chocolates, think that you are doing something good for your heart at the same time.