Bilberry and cholesterol: what you should know

Dr Suzanne Pearson
January 31, 2017

Hearing the word cholesterol often gets people thinking of eggs, butter or your GP. But cholesterol is actually part of your body's arterial repair kit –and is designed to help you.

 

What is cholesterol?

The fatty substance that occurs naturally in your body comes in two types: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. And FYI – science has moved on from labelling one good and one bad. Rather, the ratio between the two is important for your health. As a rule of thumb though, generally you want to increase HDL and decrease LDL.

How you do that naturally is actually pretty manageable. Try eating fibre‑rich foods, like oats and fruits and vegetables, and limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats. Saturated fat is the fat you can see on meat and chicken, and is found in dairy products and some plant foods, like palm and coconut oil. Trans fats can be created when oil goes through a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil more solid (known as hardening). They’re typically found in foods that use partially hydrogenated vegetable fats, like deep-fried foods and baked foods like biscuits, cakes, pastries and buns.

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Bilberry for cholesterol reduction

New research shows a small blue berry may pack a powerful punch in improving your cholesterol levels.

A recently published study in the journal Nutrition Research found that regular, short‑term inclusion of bilberries in the diet contributed to improvements in cholesterol levels. True story.

The study examined the effects of regular bilberry intake on the reduction of a range of cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood pressure and blood lipid profile [specifically cholesterol and blood fats (triglycerides)].

Twenty-five healthy adult men and women enjoyed 150g of frozen bilberries three times a week for 6‑weeks, either on their own or as part of a snack (e.g. with yoghurt).

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What are bilberries?

Bilberries are related to but distinctly different from blueberries. Like their more common cousins, these tiny fruits are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin E, some of our favourite antioxidants.

 

Promising study results

After 6-weeks, total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol (traditionally ‘bad’ cholesterol) significantly decreased, while HDL‑cholesterol (often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol) levels improved.

What’s more, subjects saw significant changes in overall blood lipid profile and blood glucose levels. Bilberries for the win!

While study researchers acknowledge the lack of blinding and control group and small study population as limitations of the study, results are promising.

So go on, treat yourself and add a healthy serve of berries. Beautiful on colour, flavour and that smug healthy feeling.  

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Dr Suzanne Pearson PhD, MNutrDiet, APD, BSc (Hons) is the Global Scientific Affairs Manager at Swisse Wellness

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