No one likes to hear it, but, as the years add up, so do the pounds. And even small increases in weight up your risk for diabetes, cognitive decline, heart disease, and certain cancers. However, the micronutrients in certain types of fruit may help thwart that gain, according to a new study published in The BMJ.
A Harvard-based research team tracked the weight of more than 124,000 people over 24 years. They found that people who ate more flavonoids—antioxidants abundant in fruit—gained the least weight and often dropped a few pounds. Study participants who ate fruit rich in three particular flavonoids—anthocyanins, flavonoid polymers, and flavonols—got the best results. This group ate fewer calories and burned more energy—the perfect equation for slimming down. “This shows that simple changes like just adding a few handfuls of berries to your day could have a big impact on your long-term health,” says Monica Bertoia, PhD, a researcher in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (Here are the fruits and veggies yous should buy organic.)
One thing to note: “We found that increased eating of all fruits was associated with less weight gain,” says Bertoia. “But that’s eating whole fruit. People who increased their fruit juice intake gained more weight. Probably because juices have so much added sugar.”
Here are a few compelling reasons to add these flavonoid-filled fruits to your day. (Snack AND lose weight with this box of Prevention-approved treats from Bestowed.)
Remarkably, America’s second favorite fruit (bananas take the top spot) is also one of the best for helping control weight. It turns out the flavonoid polymers in apples inhibit enzymes that break down simple sugars, which means you instead of storing sugar as fat, you flush more of it out of your system. And, the pectin in apples—a form of fiber—mixes with the flavonoids to depress the levels of fat circulating you your blood. (Here are 9 power foods that boost your immunity.) Not all apples are equal, though, according to research published in Nutrition Journal. Fujis have the highest concentration of flavonoids, followed by Red Delicious. Galas are still pretty high, but levels start to drop with Golden Delicious apples. How much of a difference does it make? Fuji apples have more than double the flavonoids you’ll find in an Empire apple, the lowest variety.
Like apples, pears are a decent source of pectin. But they’re also rich in flavonols and flavan-3-ols—flavonoids that seem particularly suited to protecting against weight gain and type-2 diabetes. In another study using much of the same data as Bertoia’s, eating more pears or apples was actually linked to slightly greater weight loss compared to eating more berries. One reason may be that a fresh pear provides almost a quarter of your daily fiber needs, which is good for beneficial gut flora. “Healthy gut bacteria helps the body absorb and digest flavonoids,” says Bertoia.
The berry’s dusky blue shade comes from its high concentration of the flavonoid called anthocyanin—a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent cancer, heart disease, and inflammation. “Just a small increase in anthocyanin is correlated to improved weight maintenance,” says Bertoia. “So if you eat a full serving—a half cup—you’re getting hundreds of milligrams of anthocyanin.” Believe it or not, frozen blueberries have the highest concentration of anthocyanin, followed closely by fresh ones. (Freezing the berries shortly after picking preserves more of the flavonoid.) Dried blueberries have about half as many anthocyanins as frozen or fresh berries, according to a study in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. (Here are 11 recipes you can make with fresh blueberries.)
The strawberry packs a variety of antioxidants: It offers anthocyanins (though not as much as blueberries) plus flavonols. Research shows that just a few ounces of strawberries reduce the inflammation and blood sugar spikes triggered by a carb-heavy meal. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that chowing down on a few berries before eating sweets made it more difficult for the body to absorb as much sugar—preventing it from adding to your caloric load. And in a recent animal study, researchers were able to reverse type 2 diabetes in rats by feeding them strawberries.