New research gives tantalizing clues to the potential of blueberries in reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. The effect is thought to be due to the high level of naturally occurring antioxidants called phytochemicals contained in blueberries.
Researchers studied the effect blueberries had when added to the diet of rats. After 90 days, rats that received a blueberry-enriched diet had less abdominal fat, lower triglycerides, lower cholesterol, and improved fasting glucose and insulin sensitivity.
The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are undisputed, but modern research keeps showing us just how they help you to optimize your health.
Berries are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. In the case of blueberries, naturally occurring phytochemicals such as anthocyanins can do wonders to normalize and improve your health. And berries, in general, are also high in fiber and relatively low in sugar, so they won’t stimulate severe insulin swings if eaten in moderation.
Berries are best eaten in their raw, natural state, as heating and freezing can damage antioxidants. However, some antioxidants will remain even after heating or freezing.
The Blue Wonder Berry
Blueberries contain vitamins A and C, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium and magnesium, and are high in fiber and low in calories. Additionally, researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Center (HNRCA) have ranked blueberries number one in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables, so there are many reasons for adding blueberries to your diet.
They are associated with numerous health benefits, including natural protection against:
- Brain damage from strokes
And, according to the latest research presented in the article above, blueberries may also offer protection against metabolic syndrome (which can lead to diabetes), the accumulation of abdominal fat, and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
These findings strengthen previous discoveries of the berry’s powerful impact on cardiovascular health.
Because in addition to anthocyanin – which gives the berry its deep blue color -- blueberries also contain an antioxidant compound called pterostilbene, which has been found to reduce cholesterol as well as prescription drugs. (It shares similar qualities to another cholesterol-reducing antioxidant, resveratrol, which is found in both grapes and red wine.)
As an interesting side note, another unusual way to benefit from blueberries is to add them to your ground beef before cooking (ideally at low temperatures) as they help prevent cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCA) from forming in the meat.
How Blueberries Protect Against Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome -- also sometimes referred to as pre-diabetes -- is a conglomerate of health problems that include high amounts of abdominal fat, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and high triglycerides. When combined, these conditions increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
In this latest study, rats that consumed blueberry-enriched powder as two percent of their diet had less abdominal fat, lower triglycerides, lower cholesterol, and improved fasting glucose and insulin sensitivity after 90 days, compared to the control group.
Additionally, they found that blueberry intake affected genes related to fat-burning and storage. And when they looked at muscle tissue, they saw alterations in genes related to glucose uptake.
This is interesting as another recent study concluded that metabolic syndrome is likely not caused primarily by abdominal fat, as previously thought, but rather by insulin resistance in your skeletal muscle, which leads to changes in energy storage – which in turn leads to metabolic syndrome.
Insulin resistance is clearly a key factor in metabolic syndrome, and as I’ve stated on countless occasions, the prescription for insulin resistance is diet and exercise.
It’s good to know that eating something as delicious as blueberries can actually help improve your insulin sensitivity.
The Two Best Prescriptions Against Belly Fat and Diabetes
Exercise is your number one ally here, both for shedding unwanted body fat and normalizing your insulin levels.
It can also help you sleep better, which turns out to be another important factor if you want to avoid excess pounds around your midsection. In my recent article 4 Ways to Shed Belly Fat, I explain the little-known connection between your sleeping habits and your body’s ability to shed abdominal fat.
Keep in mind that when you’re exercising to achieve weight loss, you’ll want to focus on weight bearing exercises, as muscle burns calories quite efficiently. In my experience, non-weight bearing exercises, like swimming and bicycling, are not as efficient or effective for weight loss. You’ll typically need to exercise four times as long in these activities to receive the same benefit of running or using an elliptical machine, or performing other aerobic activities.
And, to really maximize your weight loss efforts, make sure you include high-intensity interval exercises and strength training in your program.
When it comes to diet, you’ll clearly want to stay away from any foods that raise your insulin levels, namely grains and sugars, and of course, processed foods.
But in addition to that, perhaps the most effective way of making sure you’re eating the optimal diet for you is to determine your specific nutritional type. Because what’s healthy for others may not necessarily be healthy for you, and vice-versa.
When battling either belly fat or diabetes – or both -- remember that controlling your insulin levels is as important to optimizing your weight as it is to protecting you against diseases like diabetes.
Because as your insulin levels increase, your body starts to store carbohydrates as fat while at the same time not releasing stored fat. This makes it impossible for you to use your own stored body fat for energy. So excess refined and processed carbohydrates in your diet (such as breads and pasta) not only make you gain weight, they make sure you keep that weight on.
By cutting grains and sugars from your diet, combined with a regular exercise program, you can significantly improve your chances of successful weight loss, and effectively protect yourself against diabetes and a whole host of other diseases.