Scandinavian weight loss berries

If you are looking for a berry there is no shortage in this world; among the most popular you can have are blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, acai berry, and blackberry while the less popular include snobbery, bribery, and slobbery. Aside from the last few, berries are generally a healthy food (aside of course, from those poisonous varieties that tend to leave you a little bit dead) largely due to the antioxidant pigments they contain. One of the least known berries in the West are lingonberries but they are well known in Scandinavia and a new study has shown they may have some significant weight loss effects.

Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are an abundant Scandinavians wild fruit free for the taking by anyone with a basket and the patience to pick them. They come from a low, evergreen shrub that grows throughout Scandinavia’s forests. The tart red berries are much smaller and juicier than their distant cousin, the cranberry. Throughout Scandinavia lingonberries have traditionally been kept for months at room temperature simply by placing them in jars of water (making “vattlingon”) or by stirring the raw berries with a small amount of sugar to make “rårörda lingon”, an easy lingonberry jam (no cooking required). Lingonberries are also called red whortleberries, cowberries, fox berries, mountain cranberries, mountain bilberries, or partridgeberries. Should you want to show off your command of the local vernacular in Scandinavian countries they are known variously as “tyttebær” (Norwegian and Danish), “rauðber” (in Icelandic), “puolukka” (in Finnish), and “lingon” (in Swedish).

Lingonberries will suffice for us for now, and while they are clearly popular in Scandinavia it is other berry varieties that get all the publicity in other parts of the world. While acai berries and goji berries have been claiming a place among the (dubiously titled) “superfoods”, lingonberries have largely kept to their northern European confines…until now. Things may well be changing for lingonberries because a new study has shown that they have unique properties, even among other berries, to help with weight loss.

In the new study Swedish researchers used a type of mouse that easily stores fat and therefore is a model for humans who are overweight or at risk of type 2 diabetes. Some of the mice were put on a low fat diet while the majority were put on a high fat diet. Those on a high fat diet were then assigned to a variety of groups who had their diet supplemented with either lingonberry, bilberry (blueberry), raspberry, crowberry, blackberry, prune, blackcurrant, or acai berry.

After three months the lingonberry group had not put on more weight than the mice on the low fat diet and their blood sugar and insulin readings were similar to those on the low fat diet as well. Their cholesterol levels and degree of fat in the liver were also better than those on a high fat diet without any berries. The lingonberries produced the best effects followed by blackcurrants and blueberries (bilberries).

The researchers admit that the mice diet was around 20 per cent lingonberries which would not be feasible for even the most berry-loving human. They point out though that the aim would not be to produce such dramatic effects as were seen in the study in the mice but to help humans prevent obesity and diabetes by adding lingonberries to the diet.

The problem for people outside of Europe in places like Australia is getting your lingonberries. Jams are available but if they have been made using heat, it is known that heat destroys many of the beneficial compounds in lingonberries and the jams usually contain way too much sugar to be healthy anyway. The best option may be dried forms or some of the supplements that are starting to use lingonberry extract. Or of course, you can add a few more locally grown berries to your diet (hopefully replacing some sugary and fatty snacks) and you won’t go too far wrong.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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