If you want to lower your risk of high blood pressure or heart disease then add more color to your diet. Vibrant colored fruits and vegetables are the key ingredients to a heart healthy diet – especially black, blue, purple, and red.
The Colors of Berries
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, currants, cranberries, pomegranates and grapes top the list of heart healthy fruits. They get their color from a plant pigment called anthocyanin, which is part of the larger flavonoid family of plant derived products, which in turn is part of the larger polyphenol family of plant compounds. In general, the polyphenols help control inflammation and oxidation while improving blood sugar and cholesterol. As a result these tasty little fruits are especially good for the heart.
Berries for the Heart
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that even one serving per week of anthocyanin rich foods lowered risk of high blood pressure by 8-12%. That’s just one per week!
A 2010 study from Nutrition Reviews shows anthocyanins have demonstrated significant ability in keeping LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, preventing lipids from undergoing dangerous peroxide changes, increasing the blood antioxidant capacity, improving cholesterol profiles and blood sugar metabolism.
The British Journal of Nutrition featured a remarkable study in 2008 which showed men who consumed the highest amounts of flavonoid rich foods had a roughly 50% reduction in heart disease!
The positive benefits of flavonoids have been clearly shown in adults. Similar studies have been done in children to determine if they benefit to the same degree, such as a 2009 study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which showed that the beneficial effects of fruit and vegetable intake on markers of inflammation and oxidative stress are already present by early adolescence and provide support for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans “to consume five or more servings per day” of fruits and vegetables to promote beneficial cardiovascular health.
What about Fruit Juices?
Fruit juices also contain the heart healthy compounds. The deep burgundy red color of pomegranate juice hints at the heart friendly polyphenols inside. A 2009 study from Nutrition Reviews titled “Pomegranate juice: a heart health fruit juice” summarizes the tremendous benefits including lowering blood pressure and blood sugar while keeping LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and making plaque. Numerous studies, including 2004 research from Clinical Nutrition, demonstrate pomegranate’s ability to actually reverse artery plaque.
“Red wine: A drink to your heart” was published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research in 2010 and stated that “moderate consumption of red wine helps in preventing cardiovascular disease through several mechanisms, including increasing the beneficial HDL cholesterol plasma levels, decreasing the tendency for blood to clot, by antioxidant effects, and by improving the health of the endothelial cells that line the arteries.
Another testament to red wine titled “Moderate red wine consumption and cardiovascular disease risk: beyond the “French paradox”” published in 2010 found that “light to moderate intake of red wine produces a kaleidoscope of potentially beneficial effects that target all phases of the atherosclerotic process”. The polyphenols in red wine work to prevent the early phases of plaque accumulation as well help prevent the late phase rupture of plaque and blood vessel clotting that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Try to get at least 1-2 servings of berries every day. A serving is about 1 handful and I try to start every day having one with breakfast and then another with lunch or dinner. Toss them into hot or cold cereals, garnish green salads or include in fruit salads, mix in with recovery drinks or yogurt smoothies, or just enjoy plain.
Getting berries year round is easy. Of course, during season enjoy them fresh. We often freeze trays of fresh berries then after frozen dump them into freezer bags for storage. We also dry them for snacks and trail-mix recipes. You can find an amazing array of frozen and dried organic berries available year round at most grocery stores.
Organic foods are usually higher priced and one needs to be smart about prioritizing when to spend on organic. Every year the Environmental Working Group puts together a list of foods particularly prone to chemical toxicity, known as the dirty dozen. These are good foods to spend extra for organic as each of the “dirty dozen” typically hosts 10-20 detectable pesticides. Those imported from foreign countries tend to be the worst. Also, combine the dirty dozen with foods you eat frequently. For example, I eat berries and apples daily so these are foods I prioritize as organic.
Berries do have a fair amount of fruit sugar so keep that in mind. But, unlike plain sugars such as cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, or high glycemic foods including wheat breads, pasta and white potatoes, the berries are packed with flavonoids, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. A one cup serving of berries only has about 80-150 calories. As with all carbohydrates it’s best to mix berries with the other macronutrients (protein and fat) to minimize over-stimulating insulin.
One can also get the benefits of the amazing flavonoids with various supplements. Almost any berry is available in capsule form, and I regularly prescribe pomegranate, blueberry and grape extracts
Fruit juices have all the benefits of their fruit source. Just be sure to get pure juice blends that are not soaked in sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Red wine is a bit easier to include, and unless alcohol consumption is a health issue I recommend 1-2 servings daily. Personally, I’ll go for the cabernet or a pinot noir. Here’s to your heart!
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.