Flavonoids are generating a lot of excitement and interest among health professionals because of the many significant health benefits they provide.  These compounds occur naturally in a variety of plant-based foods.  In fact, flavonoids are what cause certain plants to be the color that they are.  Without these compounds, many plant species would be unable to turn CO2, sunlight, and water into the organic compounds that build their tissues.

The New Health Warriors
Why are health professionals so excited about flavonoids?

  • Research indicates that people with flavonoid-rich diets are less likely to develop certain diseases.
  • For example, flavonoids may prevent diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer.
  • Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., flavonoids are getting a lot of attention because they may also protect your heart.

Although negative side effects are uncommon, certain flavonoids may pose health risks when consumed in unnaturally high quantities.

  • Unless a doctor says otherwise, the safest known way to enjoy the benefits of these important chemicals is to consume them as they naturally occur in one’s diet.

Flavonoid-Rich Foods are Found Everywhere

  • Fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, red grapes, and cherries are good flavonoid sources.
  • For the highest amount of flavonoid, eat the darkest and ripest berries.  Apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and apples, with the skin, are rich in catechins.  Oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruit are excellent sources of flavanones.
  • Bananas are a great source of anthocyanidins.
  • Flavonoids abound in red and green vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, red and green onions, spinach, and peppers.  Artichokes and celery contain flavones, whereas broccoli and okra contain flavonols.
  • If you prefer juices and red wine to solids, you’ll still consume plenty of flavonoids.  To derive the maximum benefit, one should drink unfiltered fruit and vegetable juices made from raw ingredients.  Red wine, like red grapes, is rich in anthocyanins and flavonols.

The flavonoids can be grouped into isoflavonoids, anthocyanins, flavanones, flavonols, flavones, and chalcones.  Within each of these chemical categories are hundreds to thousands of natural compounds.

The New Heart Health Warriors
The current understanding of flavonoid benefits is based on studies using animals, test tubes, and early results of human trials.  We have much to learn through future studies of flavonoid effects on humans.  What we do know is that;

  • Flavonoids are antioxidants, meaning that they reduce the activity of free radicals.
  • Free radicals are a form of chemical that arise when our bodies convert food into energy.
  • They are always present, but excess of free radicals in the body can cause diseases.  Heart disease is a particularly pressing health issue.
  • In 2012, the World Health Organization found that heart disease was the leading cause of death globally, killing 7.4 million people around the world.

Certain flavonoids are known to protect the heart, because their antioxidant properties reduce the amount of “bad cholesterol” (Low-Density Lipoprotein or LDL) in human blood.

  • When free radicals become too abundant, they cause LDL to enter the bloodstream.
  • High blood LDL increases the risk that someone’s arteries will accumulate fatty plaque deposits. These deposits accumulate gradually over time.
  • As the plaques become more abundant, the odds increase for a sudden plaque rupture. If plaque suddenly detaches from the inner wall of a blood vessel, it may stop the blood flow, causing a heart attack or stroke.
  • In addition to reducing LDL, flavonoids may lower blood pressure.

Besides improving cardiovascular health, flavonoids may block cancer proliferation, disrupt viruses, and improve psychological symptoms.

Here are some more flavonoid-rich foods:

  • Nuts and beans contain anthocyanins, flavonols, and isoflavones. Soy, kidney, and black beans are good sources of flavonoids.  Pinto and fava beans have high levels of epigallocatechin and epicatechin.  Flavonols are found in cashews and pistachios, while pecans and walnuts contain anthocyanin.  Catechins are highly concentrated in dark chocolate.
  • Spices such as capers and thyme contain quercetin and luteolin, respectively.  Parsley contains apigenin and dill contains isorhamnetin.
  • Robusta coffee is rich in the isoflavone formononetin.

In this age of fast food and stressful lifestyles, our heart health is getting affected in more than one way and we all need to stop and take a good look at our diets and eating habits.  Since it is not possible to eliminate stress completely from our lives, we can still make sure that we the eat right foods to maintain a healthy heart by consuming flavonoid rich fruits and vegetables.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author: Michele Holincheck, FNP