Berries High in Anthocyanins May Help Reduce the Effects of a High Fat Diet
By Kit Broihier, MS, RD, LD
Nutrition Advisor for the Wild Blueberry Association of North America
Who hasn’t overindulged in high-fat, high-calorie fare at some time or another and then wished it could all be “taken back” somehow? Sorry, we don’t have a magic wand, super pill, or even a special food that will instantly “undo” dietary damage (though wouldn’t that be great?). Instead, scientists working in the areas of diabetes and metabolic syndrome are looking into the effects that certain foods have on various symptoms of obesity, including inflammation, resulting from increased fat mass. Wild Blueberries, and bilberries (a European “relative” of the Wild Blueberry) are among those foods that show promise in helping to diminish the effects of a fatty diet on risk factors associated with the metabolic syndrome.
In animals, as well as humans, overeating can lead to extra pounds, which may contribute to obesity-induced inflammation (sometimes collectively referred to as chronic, low-grade inflammation), hypertension, and insulin resistance—all of which are characteristics of the metabolic syndrome. A recently published, three-month study conducted in Finland with mice revealed that a high-fat diet that included bilberries helped ameliorate and prevent some of the metabolic problems the mice developed as they gained weight from the fatty diet. Specifically, the mice that ate a diet containing bilberries experienced decreased blood pressure, while those that received just the high-fat diet and no bilberries showed no such decrease. In addition, several other pro-inflammatory markers associated with low-grade inflammation were also positively impacted by the bilberry-containing diet.
So what does this have to do with Wild Blueberries? “The Maine Wild Blueberry and the European bilberry have many of the same characteristics, such as smaller size, more intense flavor, and both are higher in antioxidants than the cultivated blueberry,” says David Yarborough, PhD, Wild Blueberry Specialist and Professor of Horticulture at the University of Maine. And, although there have been a number of studies utilizing Wild Blueberry and bilberry extracts, there are fewer that use the whole fruit, like this one did. Using a whole food more accurately mimics how both animals and humans actually eat. One recent study that used whole Wild Blueberries, conducted by Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, PhD, at the University of Maine, used obese rats that exhibited all the typical characteristics of metabolic syndrome. She found that incorporating 1½ cups of Wild Blueberries into the diets of the rats daily for 8 weeks resulted in decreased obesity-induced inflammation and normalization of physiological characteristics of metabolic syndrome.
What’s behind these effects?
More studies need to be done to know for sure, but science points to the berries’ high level of anthocyanins (a powerful antioxidant plant chemical that’s responsible for the blue and red pigments in some fruits and vegetables) as a probable reason for these beneficial effects. According to Dr. Klimis-Zacas, “Anthocyanins may not only act as antioxidants but also as molecules that send signals that alter cell metabolic pathways.” However, both Wild Blueberries and bilberries contain many other phytochemicals that could also play roles in helping fight the damaging health effects of a high-fat fare.
Kit Broihier is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and co-author of several cookbooks. She contributes regularly to a variety of national and regional publications and blogs. Previously on the editorial staff at Good Housekeeping magazine, she now own a food and nutrition consulting company and currently serves as a nutrition advisor to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America.