An apple a day really might keep the doctor away! The fruit contains a potent compound that can keep your heart healthy, say experts
- UK and US researchers say apples protect heart health when consumed daily
- Along with berries and tea, they are packed with a compound that boosts health
- Flavan-3-ols improve blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, is how the saying goes.
But now researchers say there’s some truth to the centuries-old adage.
Apples, along with berries, grapes and tea, protect heart health when consumed daily.
Scientists now advise people consume the equivalent of an apple, some berries and two cups of tea per day.
This combination contains roughly 500mg of flavan-3-ols — a ‘bioactive’ compound said to be good for your heart.
A review of more than 150 studies concluded that the chemical, also found in red wine and dark chocolate, can improve blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Professor Gunter Kuhnle, an expert in nutrition at the University of Reading, said the data shows flavan-3-ols can boost health.
Apples, along with berries, grapes and tea, protect heart health when consumed daily. Scientists now advise people consume the equivalent of an apple, some berries and two cups of tea per day
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide
As it stands, dietary recommendations are focused on preventing deficiencies in essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and sugars.
The only non-essential nutrient people are told to eat based on its health benefits, rather than a risk of deficiency, is fibre.
Fibre is linked with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, leading UK and US health chiefs to advise eating 30g per day.
But dieticians have argued that dietary recommendations should include other compounds that boost health.
Dozens of studies have highlighted the health benefits of flavan-3-ols in maintaining wellbeing and preventing disease — which the researchers said made it the ‘strongest candidate’ for investigating.
The international experts, funded by the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, examined data from 157 randomised controlled trials and 15 cohort studies.
The results showed the bioactive compound was linked to lower blood pressure, in turn lowering the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
It also improved levels of cholesterol, as well as ‘bad’ HDL cholesterol, which can harm the heart if levels are too high.
Flavan-3-ols were also linked with lower blood sugar, reducing the risk of nerve and eye damage.
Dr Kuhnle said: ‘To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, we recommend consuming 400mg-600mg of flavan-3-ols, per day.
WHAT ARE FLAVANOLS?
Flavanols are a group of molecules which occur naturally in fruit and vegetables
They are found in many plant-based foods and drinks, such as tea, red wine, blueberries, apples, pears, cherries and peanuts.
They are particularly abundant in the seeds of the cacao tree — cacao beans.
Fermenting, drying, and roasting cacao beans yields cocoa powder, which is used to make chocolate.
Flavanols in cocoa have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage.
Source: Harvard Medical School
‘This is equivalent to a couple of cups of tea, some red or purple berries, and an apple.
‘It is far more effective to take in your daily amount as healthy food or beverages than to take a supplement’.
Green tea has the highest flavan-3-ol content per cup (320mg), followed by black tea (280 mg), blackberries (65mg per 160g) and dried cranberries (35mg per 80g).
Dark chocolate is also packed with the bioactive (20mg per 18g), as is red wine (15mg per 150ml glass), apples (15mg per small apple) and blueberries (10mg per 150g).
The team noted that the health risks from alcohol and high fat and sugar items, such as dark chocolate, ‘is likely to outweigh the benefits’ from flavan-3-ols.
And they warned that their findings apply to flavan-3-ols contained in food, rather than supplements.
The latter can cause liver damage and stomach problems when taken in high doses, the researchers said.
The team said they hope the results will help inform doctors, policy makers, public health bodies and the public.
Dr Kuhnle told MailOnline: ‘For most people in the UK, it will probably be easy to meet this as three cups of tea are usually enough.
‘But those who don’t drink (much) tea could consider [picking] their five-a-day from a group of fruits and vegetables that are high in flavanols such as apples.
‘Ultimately, it would be great if there could be some movement in the development of dietary recommendations and an inclusion of bioactive compounds such as flavanols — but this is likely to be a longer process.’
He added: ‘The impact of consuming that amount of flavanols is broadly comparable with switching to a Mediterranean diet or a moderate reduction in salt intake — both dietary changes that are based on official recommendations.’
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