Photo of ripe lingonberries
Lingonberries, which are plentiful in Nordic countires, are a close relative of bilberries [Image:Wikimedia]

A berry good way to lose weight?

29 January, 2014

Natural Health News — With so many berries – and even ‘super berries’ – on the market these days how can you choose the ones that are healthiest for you?

The answer may depend on what your health goals are.

When researchers at Lund University in Sweden set out to see how well local, seasonal lingonberries, bilberries, blackcurrants, and other berries common in the Nordic diet stack up against the the much vaunted Brazilian açaí, they got a surprise.

Lingonberries almost completely prevented weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet, whereas the açai led to increased weight gain. The Scandinavian berries also produced lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

The Lund University research team used a type of mouse that easily stores fat and therefore can be regarded as a model for humans who are overweight and at risk of diabetes.

Counteracts the effects of a high fat diet

Some of the mice were fed a low-fat diet, while the majority of the animals were fed a diet high in fat. They were then divided into groups, where all except a control group were fed a particular type of berry – lingonberry, bilberry, raspberry, crowberry, blackberry, prune, blackcurrant or açai berry.

When the mice were compared after three months,the researchers observed that the lingonberry group had by far the best results. The mice that had eaten lingonberries had not put on more weight than the mice that had eaten a low-fat diet – and their blood sugar and insulin readings were similar to those of the ‘low-fat’ mice.

Lower cholesterol too

Their cholesterol levels and levels of fat in the liver were also lower than those of the animals who received a high-fat diet without any berries.

According to the Lund University researchers, their paper in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, is the first study of this kind using lingonberries (also known outside of Sweden by a variety of names including cowberry, red whortleberry, mountain cranberry and foxberry).

“That is probably because lingonberries are mainly eaten in Scandinavia. At international conferences, I always have to start by explaining what they are, and showing the audience a jar of them”, says Lovisa Heyman, a PhD student in Experimental Medical Science.

Blackcurrants and bilberries also produced good effects, although not as pronounced as the lingonberries. The açai berries, on the other hand, came last.

“In our study, the açai berries led to weight gain and higher levels of fat in the liver”, said Karin Berger, diabetes researcher at Lund University.

Rich in antioxidants

She believes that açai berries are primarily used as an energy supplement in their homeland Brazil. It is in the US and Europe that açai has been marketed as a ‘super berry’ with many health benefits, including weight loss.

The good results from lingonberries may be due to their polyphenol content, according to the researchers who are now looking to see if this effect can be found in humans. The berries are also a good source of vitamin C, beta carotene, B vitamins (B1, B2, B3), as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Like cranberries they also contain phytochemicals that are thought to counteract urinary-tract infections and a regularly consuming juice made from the combination of the two has been shown to help reduce the recurrence of urinary tract infections.

Lingonberry seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Getting more

“Up to 20 % of our mice’s diet was lingonberries. It isn’t realistic for humans to eat such a high proportion. However, the goal is not to produce such dramatic effects as in the ‘high-fat’ mice, but rather to prevent obesity and diabetes by supplementing a more normal diet with berries”, said Karin Berger.

However, the Lund researchers do not recommend people start eating large quantities of lingonberry jam. Boiling the berries can affect their nutrient content and jam contains a lot of sugar. Frozen lingonberries on cereal or in a smoothie are considerably better. Supplements may also be a good way to get the antioxidant benefits of the berries.