Consuming strawberries might help improve heart health in a number of ways, according to research presented at the recent 9th biennial Berry Health Benefits Symposium (BHBS).
One study presented at BHBS found that strawberry consumption improves vascular function only one hour after consumption. Published in The Journal of Nutrition, the study was conducted by researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology on a group of 34 men and women who had moderate hypercholesterolemia—meaning their low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, levels were too high.
Study participants were equally divided into two groups: one that consumed a beverage with freeze-dried strawberry powder twice daily and another which consumed a control beverage. While researchers noted that the study was limited, their results indicated that consistent strawberry consumption may improve endothelial function and blood pressure in people with high cholesterol.
Findings like these can help educate consumers about the importance of consuming fresh fruit like strawberries to promote optimal heart health and decrease the risk of diet-related illnesses.
“The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study showed that a diet low in fruit is among the top three risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” According to Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD., professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and BHBS Heart and Healthy Aging Session Chair, said in a statement.
“To address the ‘fruit gap’ we need to increase the amount of total fruit consumed as well as the diversity of fruit in the diet,” Burton-Freeman said. “Accumulating evidence in cardiometabolic health suggests that as little as one cup of strawberries per day may show beneficial effects.”
Other health benefits of strawberries
Strawberries can also play a role in improving insulin resistance, an important factor in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, according to another study referenced at the BHBS.
Published in the scientific journal Nutrients this 14-week randomized controlled crossover study was conducted by researchers from multiple universities who were interested in studying the effects of strawberry consumption on lipid profiles and glycemic control in 33 obese adults with elevated serum LDL cholesterol levels.
The researchers used “dietary achievable doses of strawberries” so that their findings could be easily implemented. At a daily dose of 2.5 servings of strawberries (also administered in a powder form) per day, researchers found improvements in insulin resistance and moderate improvement high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particle size, which carry public health implications for treatment of type 2 diabetes.
“Our study supports the hypothesis that strawberry consumption can improve cardiometabolic risks,” Arpita Basu, PhD, RDN, lead investigator and associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said in a statement.
“Furthermore, we believe this evidence supports the role of strawberries in a ‘food as medicine’ approach for the prevention of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults,” Basu said.
While researchers in the studies cited during the BHBS did not report any conflicts, the research was supported by the California Strawberry Commission, a 300-member group of farmers, shippers, and processors, who work together to advance strawberry farming.
Diet and heart health
Strawberries are not the only plant-based food with bioactive compounds that can improve heart health. A growing body of research supports that soybeans have cholesterol-lowering and lipid-regulating effects.
A recent study conducted by researchers at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign looked at the specific proteins in soybeans—glycinin and B-conglycinin—to better understand their function in cholesterol metabolism.
Their findings confirmed that these proteins had the potential to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and lower the risk of metabolic diseases such as atherosclerosis—which leads to heart disease—and fatty liver disease.
Zooming out of specific foods, generally plant rich diets are also associated with improved heart health. One 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that diets that focus on nutritionally rich plant foods help young adults maintain a healthier heart, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease by 52 percent.
An interesting finding in this 32-year study was that participants who shifted to a plant-based diet later in life gained heart-protective benefits, regardless of the quality of their original diet.
Conversely, consuming one serving of red meat can increase risk of heart disease significantly. A comprehensive study published last year in the medical journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology found that eating and digesting red meat results in certain gut bacterial metabolites that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease by up to 22 percent.