A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition provided more evidence that the reputation of blueberries for being a superfood is well deserved. It showed eating one cup of the fruit per day may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 15 percent.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) led the investigation, and colleagues from Harvard and other U.K. institutions collaborated. The team concluded that blueberries and other berries should be included in a dietary approach to lower the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, especially among people at high risk.

The simple and attainable message is to consume one cup of blueberries daily to improve cardiovascular health.- Aedin Cassidy, professor at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School

The study’s goal was to determine if blueberries might have an effect on metabolic syndrome, a disorder affecting one-third of adults in Western countries. The syndrome is defined as having three of the following risk factors: high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides, low levels of good cholesterol and excessive fat in the waistline.

“Having metabolic syndrome significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes and often statins and other medications are prescribed to help control this risk,” lead researcher Professor Aedin Cassidy, of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said. “It’s widely recognized that lifestyle changes, including making simple changes to food choices, can also help.

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“Previous studies have indicated that people who regularly eat blueberries have a reduced risk of developing conditions including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Cassidy added.

The participants were 138 overweight and obese individuals between age 50 and 75, all of whom had metabolic syndrome. One group ate one cup of blueberries per day, another ate a half cup of blueberries per day, and a third ate a placebo with artificial color and flavoring that was designed to look and taste like blueberries. The intervention period was six months.

According to co-lead author Peter Curtis, the group who ate one cup of blueberries per day showed sustained improvements in arterial stiffness and vascular function. These benefits resulted in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease by 12 to 15 percent. The positive effects were not seen in the group who ate a half cup of blueberries per day.

The findings suggest that greater consumption of the fruit is needed to improve heart health in the obese than the consumption needed in the general population, Curtis explained, and his takeaway was clear.

“The simple and attainable message is to consume one cup of blueberries daily to improve cardiovascular health,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cassidy told Olive Oil Times why blueberries may be of value for the heart.

“Blueberries contain powerful bioactive compounds called anthocyanins, which are part of the flavonoid family,” she said. “In lab and animal experiments we know that anthocyanins, the ingredient that imparts the brilliant red-blue colors in fruits and other plant foods, can reduce inflammation, keep arteries healthy, improve blood flow and reduce cholesterol levels.”

While eating one cup of blueberries per day seems like a sizable amount, Cassidy told Olive Oil Times that people who are not at risk of heart disease could receive a similar benefit from eating fewer berries each day.

“This is the first long-term trial in at-risk people to show heart-health benefits and provide evidence of mechanisms to back up the benefits,” she said. “Although in these participants we didn’t see any positive effects with a half cup a day, we think the general population may experience a benefit from this amount.”

“We have great population-based data from large cohorts showing that the habitual intake of just three servings a week reduces the risk of having a heart attack,” she added. “The next step in research is a clinical trial in healthier people.”

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