Eating This Berry Can Improve Your Heart & Brain Health in 8 Weeks, New Study Says
Research at San Diego State University suggests that even though summer is winding down, this fruity favorite should be a staple in your cart year-round.
Some leading health experts have been following what might sound to you like a new adage: “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”
It’s relatively self-explanatory: The diet and lifestyle habits that help prevent cardiovascular disorders can keep your mind sharp, too.
This probably sounds like a whole lot of discipline—you’re thinking we want you to eat more fish and go for more walks, right? We definitely support those practices—but here’s a fun twist: A beloved berry may be one of the most powerful weapons to fight off heart disease and cognitive disorders, like dementia.
According to a recent study at San Diego State University in partnership with the California Strawberry Commission, eating two servings of strawberries each day can improve heart and brain health in just eight weeks’ time.
How eating strawberries can benefit brain and heart health
Recently presented at Nutrition 2023 through the American Society of Nutrition, this double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated 35 healthy men and women between the ages of 66 and 78 years old who consumed 26 grams of freeze-dried strawberry powder (the equivalent of two servings of strawberries, approximately two cups) for eight weeks. When compared with the control group who ate a powder that wasn’t made of strawberries, the strawberry group experienced a 5.2% increase in cognitive processing speed, a 3.6% decrease in blood pressure, and an increase of antioxidant capacity by 10.2%. Their waistlines also decreased by an average 1.1%—with unhealthy waist size indicating visceral fat, which can contribute to risk for conditions like heart disease and cardiometabolic disorders, like diabetes.
“This study demonstrates that consuming strawberries may promote cognitive function and improve cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension,” says Shirin Hooshmand, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian and professor in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at San Diego State and principal investigator on the study in a recent press release. “We’re encouraged that a simple dietary change, like adding strawberries to the daily diet, may improve these outcomes in older adults.”
If it’s not entirely practical (or appealing) to eat two cups of strawberries—or 26 grams of freeze-dried strawberry powder—every day, then Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian and cookbook author in Charleston, SC, has other recommendations.
The strawberry isn’t the only fruit to provide these benefits
While this study highlights potential heart and brain benefits of strawberries, Manaker points out that eating fruit is already known for supporting both heart and brain health. “Like many fruits, strawberries contain natural plant compounds that many of us are not consuming enough of. These plant compounds may support many aspects of our health, including our heart and brain health.”
One of those compounds includes flavonoids—a type of antioxidant found in most fruits and vegetables—which a 2020 review published in Molecules linked it with health benefits including reducing the risk of cancer, lowering the risk of heart disease, and preserving brain function. “This [new] study specifically shows that strawberries offer impressive benefits that support both of these aspects of our health,” Manaker says.
How to get more strawberries into your diet
Manaker says strawberries work well tossed into all kinds of healthy foods you can make at home like smoothies, parfaits, or even salads. Sliced up strawberries are great for topping on a warm bowl of oatmeal, or even in a cold cereal with milk or an overnight chia seed pudding for an extra boost of fiber and omega-3s!
For a sweet tooth kind of occasion, Manaker says that strawberries dipped in chocolate make for a delicious antioxidant-rich treat. “Strawberries can also be cooked and used as a topping for French toast or ice cream,” she says.