Snacking on Strawberries May Ward Off Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

December 09, 2016
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Snacking on Strawberries May Ward Off Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

Can a cup of strawberries help mitigate the effects of an unhealthy diet? Western-style meals are typically high in calories, solid fats and refined carbohydrates, and low in micronutrients. Since we eat multiple times a day, this nutrient imbalance habitually stresses our metabolic and immune systems and puts us at risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. There is increasing evidence that much of the damage occurs immediately after eating a meal. If we can protect people from dietary insults in the postprandial period, we may be able to mitigate the onset or impact of these diseases, according to a new study in Food and Function.

Previous research on strawberries has found that consuming a small amount with a meal can blunt post-meal oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin response. However, this is the first study to examine whether strawberries can have a beneficial affect when consumed before or after a meal.

Can eating a strawberry snack or dessert offset the effects of an unhealthy meal a few hours later?

Strawberry anthocyanins are primarily responsible for their postprandial health benefits. The anthocyanin effect tends to peak 1-2 hours after consumption. In order to determine when they have the strongest metabolic benefit, the authors designed a 3-arm, single-blinded, crossover clinical trial in which 14 overweight healthy adults consumed a strawberry drink at one of three times: 2 hours before a typical Western breakfast, with the meal, or 2 hours after the meal. The breakfast consisted of a croissant with apple jelly and butter, frosted flake cereal with milk, and breakfast sausage links (838 total calories with 44% of calories from fat and 46% of calories from carbohydrates). The strawberry drink contained 12 grams of freeze-dried strawberry powder, or about 1 cup of fresh strawberries.

The researchers compared the results with a separate, demographically matched group, who consumed control drinks at the same three intervals as the experimental subjects.

The results indicate that consuming strawberries before meals has the greatest effect on metabolism and oxidative stress:

  • Those who drank the shake two hours before breakfast had significantly lower glucose concentrations over a 10-hour period versus those who had it with the meal.
  • Subjects who consumed the strawberry shake two hours before the meal had a weaker IL-6 response (a measure of oxidative stress, or the body’s ability to capture and neutralize free radicals before they can cause damage) compared with the reference group. IL-6 was not raised as quickly and did not rise as high over a 10-hour period.

The researchers hypothesize that the bioactive compounds in strawberries (most notably anthocyanins) work best when they’re digested and absorbed before a meal. The strawberries may bolster insulin sensitivity, ushering glucose more rapidly into cells and moving it out of the bloodstream.

Bottom Line: Eating strawberries may help reduce blood sugar levels and inflammation, especially when consumed within two hours of a meal.

Huang, Y., Park, E., Edirisinghe, I., & Burton-Freeman B.M. (2016). Maximizing the health effects of strawberry anthocyanins: understanding the influence of the consumption timing variable. Food & Function. doi: 10.1039/c6fo00995f

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