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Enjoy Berries Twice a Day: Protect Your Heart Three Ways

Finnish researchers divided 72 middle-aged men and women at increased risk of cardiovascular disease into 2 groups. One group was given sufficient frozen berries and berry juice to enjoy 2 servings daily, one after lunch and another after dinner. (Serving size was either 100 grams (3 ounces) of whole berries or .7 dL (2.37 fluid ounces) of berry juice.) The other group consumed one of four different control products (sweetened water, semolina or rice porridge or marmalade sweets) supplying the same amount of calories as the berries. From the perspective of U.S. consumers, some unusual berries were included in the study - namely, bilberries, lingonberries, and black currants (together with the more familiar strawberries).

To be included in the study, subjects had to have at least one of the following: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high total cholesterol, or low HDL ("good") cholesterol.

After eight weeks, berry eaters' systolic blood pressure had dropped 7.3 mm Hg compared to 0.2 mm Hg in the control group, their HDL-cholesterol increased 5.2% compared to 0.6% in the control group, and the platelets in their blood became significantly much less likely to form blood clots.

Not only are berries especially rich in naturally occurring polyphenols, but unlike other excellent sources of polyphenols, such as chocolate and red wine, berries contain no alcohol or caffeine, making them an even better potential choice for heart health. Berries can also be rich in other health-promoting compounds, including vitamin C, folate, potassium, and soluble fiber.

And need we add, berries are very low in calories, ranging from only about 40-50 (strawberries) to 80-90 (blueberries) calories in a whole cup, making them the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Practical Tip: In summer and fall, when fresh berries are readily available and much less expensive, buy a whole flat. Rinse gently, spread on a cookie sheet, pat dry with a paper towel then freeze for a couple of hours. Transfer frozen berries to pint-size freezer bags and store in your freezer for use as desired. As always, we strongly encourage selection of organically grown berries.

Erlund I, Koli R, Alfthan G, et al. Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):323-31.

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