An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes – and researchers say there’s some truth to that.
Apples, along with berries, grapes, and tea, protect heart health when eaten daily.
Scientists now advise people to consume the equivalent of an apple, a few berries and two cups of tea a day.
This combination contains approximately 500 mg of flavan-3-ols, a “bioactive” compound known to be good for the 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.
Professor Gunter Kuhnle, a nutrition expert at the University of Reading, said data shows that flavan-3-ols can improve health.
A review of over 150 studies concluded that flavan-3-ols, also found in red wine and dark chocolate, can improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET RESULT IN?
Meals should be potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count
• Meals based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starches, ideally whole grains
• 30 grams of fiber per day: This is equivalent to eating all of the following foods: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-grain crackers, 2 thick slices of whole-grain bread, and a large baked potato with the skin on.
• Have dairy products or dairy alternatives (like soy beverages) choosing low fat and low sugar options
• Eat beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 servings of fish per week, one of which should be fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume them in small amounts
• Drink 6 to 8 cups/glasses of water per day
• Adults should consume less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide
As it stands, dietary recommendations focus on preventing deficiencies in essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and sugars.
The only non-essential nutrient that people are told to eat because of its health benefits, rather than a risk of deficiency, is fiber.
Fiber is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, leading UK and US health chiefs to advise eating 30g a day.
But dieticians have argued that dietary recommendations should include other compounds that improve health.
Dozens of studies have demonstrated the health benefits of flavan-3-ols in maintaining well-being and preventing disease, which researchers say makes it the “strongest candidate” for investigation.
The international experts, funded by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, reviewed data from 157 randomized controlled trials and 15 cohort studies.
The results showed that the bioactive compound was linked to lower blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
It also improved cholesterol levels, as well as HDL “bad” cholesterol, which can harm the heart if levels are too high.
Flavan-3-ols were also linked to 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 to 600mg of flavan-3-ols daily.
“That equals two cups of tea, a few red or purple berries and an apple.
“Taking your daily dose in the form of healthy food or drink is much more effective than taking a supplement.”
Green tea has the highest flavan-3-ol content per cup (320 mg), followed by black tea (280 mg), blackberries (65 mg per 160 g) and dried cranberries (35 mg per 80 g ).
Dark chocolate is also packed with bioactives (20mg per 18g), as are red wine (15mg per 150ml glass), apples (15mg per small apple) and blueberries (10mg per 150g).
Scientists now advise people to consume the equivalent of an apple, a few berries and two cups of tea a day
WHAT ARE FLAVANOLS?
Flavanols are a group of molecules found naturally in fruits and vegetables
They are found in many plant-based foods and beverages, such as tea, red wine, blueberries, apples, pears, cherries, and peanuts.
They are especially abundant in the seeds of the cocoa tree – cocoa beans.
The fermentation, drying and roasting of cocoa beans results in cocoa powder, which is used to make chocolate.
The 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
The team noted that the health risks of alcohol and products high in fat and sugar, such as dark chocolate, “are likely to outweigh the benefits” of flavan-3-ols.
And they cautioned that their findings applied to flavan-3-ols in foods, 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 agencies and the public.
Dr Kuhnle told MailOnline: ‘For most people in the UK this will probably be easy to answer as three cups of tea is usually enough.
“But those who don’t drink (a lot) of tea might 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 inclusion of bioactive compounds such as flavanols – but it will likely be a longer process.”
He added: “The impact of consuming this amount of flavanols is broadly comparable to switching to a Mediterranean diet or moderately reducing salt intake – both dietary changes based on official recommendations.”
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