SUNDAY, Oct. 26, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Call it the "tart heart-smart diet."
New research ties eating tart cherries to lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation and cutting one's body weight and fat -- all major risk factors for heart disease.
This latest study, scheduled to be presented by University of Michigan researchers at the American Dietetic Association annual meeting, in Chicago, reached these conclusions after feeding whole tart cherry powder to obese rats.
After 12 weeks, the rats had 14 percent less body fat while maintaining lean muscle mass, compared to other rats who ate the same foods minus the cherry powder. The rats eating cherries also lost significant amounts of body weight -- notably a loss of "belly" fat, a known risk for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
The rats eating a cherry-enriched diet also dropped their total cholesterol levels by about 11 percent. Levels of two known markers of inflammation linked to increased risk for heart disease also dropped by 31 percent to 40 percent.
"Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans today, so it's important we continue researching ways people can improve their diet to help reduce key risk factors," study co-author Dr. Steven F. Bolling, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, said in a news release from the study's sponsor, the Cherry Marketing Institute. "We know excess body fat increases the risk for heart disease. This research gives us one more support point suggesting that diet changes, such as including cherries, could potentially lower heart disease risk."
Researchers said the animal study is encouraging and will lead to further clinical studies in humans to explore the link between diet, weight, inflammation and lowering heart disease risk.
Tart cherries, often sold as dried, frozen or juice, contain powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins. In addition to providing the fruit with its rich red color, studies suggest these plant compounds may be responsible for the fruit's health benefits.
The National Cancer Institute has more about the health benefits of antioxidants.