A new study, published in the journal Circulation, found that women who ate the most strawberries and blueberries reduced their risk of heart attack by 32%. More than 93,000 women, aged 25 to 42, were followed for 18 years. The researchers believe that anthocyanins, antioxidants found in plants that protect and repair cells from damage, are responsible for this health benefit. Significant benefits were seen in women who ate just over three servings (1/2 cup = 1 serving) of berries weekly.
The study was observational, meaning it did not prove that berries were the cause of decreased risk. It is possible that women who eat more berries may have other healthy lifestyle habits that are protective. The researchers did, however, consider other factors that could affect heart attack risk, such as being overweight or obese, exercise, smoking, drinking caffeine and alcohol.
Anthocyanins, belonging to the family of compounds known as flavonoids, are found in various fruits and vegetables. Major sources include blueberries, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, black currants, purple grapes, plums, red cabbage, and red onion. These antioxidants are also pigments that give many fruits and vegetables a bright red and purplish color.
Many of the non-traditional nutrients – phytonutrients – that we are finding in plant foods are actually pigments that prevent disease. They are why fruits and vegetables are so beautifully colored. Various plant colors represent different phytonutrients, each helping protect us from certain diseases. It is why you will often hear registered dietitians recommend “eating a colorful diet!”