Instead of sprinkling raspberries, blackberries or strawberries on your next cup of frozen yogurt, opt for blueberries, which may be the healthiest choice.

These blueberry benefits came to light in April when a University study found that blueberries have the potential to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Mitchell Seymour, lead researcher and manager of the University’s Cardio protection Research Laboratory, said he originally became interested in the health effects of blueberries after learning about a study that followed the diets of 35,000 women for 16 years. Results from the study showed that the group of women with the highest intake of blueberries had the lowest number of deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Seymour said he decided to conduct a similar experiment in an animal study that used obesity-prone rats.

“Animals are mostly resistant to cardiovascular disease so we wanted to study an animal model that was susceptible,” he said.

The researchers separated the rats into two groups with different diets. One was fed a normal diet and the other was fed a diet high in fat and cholesterol. They then tested the effects of blueberries by crushing the fruit into a powder that could be mixed into the rats’ food.

After 90 days, rats that consumed a diet with 2 percent blueberry powder exhibited less abdominal fat, lower triglycerides and lower cholesterol.

Seymour said they focused on measuring abdominal fat because it has a positive correlation with cardiovascular disease.

“We saw a reduced amount of abdominal fat in these animals (that ate blueberries), and we saw a reduced total fat mass, but only in animals that were also fed a low-fat diet,” Seymour said.

The results showed that blueberries, when combined with a low-fat diet, have even more beneficial effects—including reduced liver mass—than when consumed with a high-fat diet.

“So the blueberries didn’t give them a total green light to just eat a high fat diet,” Seymour said.

The rats that were fed blueberries also had a better response to glucose absorbance from food intake.

“This would indicate that they may have better control of their blood sugar and be at less risk for diabetes,” Seymour said.

Steven Bolling, a University heart surgeon and head of the Cardioprotection Laboratory, said the study is significant because it proves people should eat blueberries.

He said the fruit contains chemical elements called anthocyanins that help decrease the risk of metabolic obesity syndrome.

“What your mom said to you when you were little — which is eat your fruits and vegetables — was probably right,” he said.

Fruits with anthocyanins usually have dark pigments like red, blue and purple, Seymour said.

“We suspect that adding them to the diet and replacing some other sugar that you may have in your diet with the blueberries might be really beneficial,” Seymour said.

But, Bolling emphasized that eating fruits like blueberries won’t fully protect people from health problems.

“We as Americans really want some magic bullet so that we can eat Big Macs, smoke cigarettes, drink too much beer, get fat but then take two blueberries and get better — that’s not going to work,” he said.

Bolling said it’s difficult to determine a recommended amount of blueberries people should eat per day just by conducting research on rats, but the underlying principle is the same for animals and humans alike.

“What it does is reinforce the concept of a healthy diet including a lot of fruits and vegetables,” he said.

LSA senior Ignasia Tanone participated in the research in her junior and senior years. She said that during her junior year she went to the laboratory seven days a week to feed the rats and weigh them. Last semester she helped analyze lipid RNA extractions from the rodents.

While there is still more research to be done, Tanone said the results are promising for combating health issues in humans because the blueberries had a positive effect on the obese rats.

“Now we have all these heart problems, all these health issues in the U.S. especially, so blueberry findings are really helpful because they give us a way to attack those issues,” she said.

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