Berries, grapes, cherries, apples help fight weight gain
CHRIS SMYTH THE TIMES JANUARY 28, 2016
Eating a handful of grapes four times a week can stave off middle-aged spread, the biggest study of its kind has found.
Those who ate regular portions of grapes, berries, cherries or apples put on no weight over two decades and even got slimmer, according to the study of 124,000 people over 24 years. The research looked at data from three long-term US studies, finding that under normal middle-age weight gain, people put on about one or two kilograms every four years.
Those who ate the most foods rich in nutrients called flavonoids, however, saw very slight falls in their weight.
The biggest effect was seen in people who consumed a flavonoid that gives the red colour to blueberries, strawberries, cherries, grapes and similar fruits. The nutrients also seemed to be helpful when found in tea, apples and onions.
Aedin Cassidy, senior author of the study at the University of East Anglia, said: “People tend to put on weight as they get older. But we found that people who ate a few portions of flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables a week maintained a healthy weight, and even lost a little.”
Three or four portions of berries a week or a similar number of apples would be enough to see an effect, Professor Cassidy reports in The BMJ.
Although the study cannot prove that flavonoids caused the weight to stay off, Professor Cassidy said that her team attempted to account for how much fatty food and fizzy drinks people consumed, as well as other habits such as exercise.
Her theory is that flavonoids slow the rate at which the body absorbs fat, increase its expenditure of energy and help to keep gut bacteria healthy.
Flavonoids have previously been claimed to cut the risk of other illnesses such as heart disease and are now widely sold as supplements. Other scientists say that more rigorously controlled trials have yet to prove a benefit.
Only a third of adults eat the recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. Professor Cassidy said that raising awareness might motivate more to head to the greengrocer.
“The public health message to eat five a day is very important. We don’t all achieve that and this gives us specific things we can eat that aren’t unusual,” she said. “Most adults gain weight as they age and even small increases in weight can have a substantial impact on the risk of high blood pressure, developing heart disease, cancer or diabetes — so strategies to help individuals maintain a healthy weight in middle age are needed.
“Just a single portion of some of these fruits per day would have an important impact on health at a population level.”
Professor Cassidy advised: “Drink more tea, eat more berries and grapes, enjoy the odd glass of red wine and eat more apples and onions.”
Her study could not tell if eating more of such foods would actually help dieters lose weight, but she said that it was possible.
Tracy Parker, a dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Although the mechanisms of the benefit of eating fruit and vegetables are not well understood, this study suggests that eating fruit and vegetables that contain high levels of flavonoids, such as apples, pears, berries, and peppers, could help people maintain a healthy weight.
“Unfortunately, most adults in the UK struggle to eat the ‘five a day fruit and vegetables’ recommendation, so the take-home message is still that we all need to be eating more fruit and vegetables, rather than focusing on particular types.”
Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, warned: “This type of study cannot and should not be taken as proving a cause-effect relationship. In truth, individuals who eat more high-flavonoid foods have other habits which lead them to put on less weight ... We should encourage more fruit and vegetables, but this is common sense.”
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