Flavonoids and Heart Health and Cancer Prevention

The latest nutrition research has shined a light on a particular nutrient in food called ‘Flavonoids’. It seems that even when things like smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol were controlled for, one single factor remained as a constant predictor of reducing your chance of death from heart disease or cancer- how many flavonoids you are eating every day.
Flavonoids are not going to be an ingredient listed on a food label, they are an important phytonutrient that you get from plant sources like fruits and vegetables, as well as in tea and red wine. Recent research indicates that you need to eat about 500 mg of flavonoids every day to reduce your risk of heart disease death and cancer.

What is a Flavonoid?

Flavonoids in foods fall into a category of phytonutrients called polyphenols. They have long been researched for their anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits. Flavonoids offer rich pigments to plants, giving wonderful deep colors that offer us phenomenal health benefits. There are over 6000 different and unique flavonoids so increasing your daily intake is not difficult to do once you get into the habit of eating 5 – 10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Since there are over 6000 different kinds of flavonoids, the US Dept of Agriculture breaks down flavonoids into five subcategories. The benefits from consuming flavonoids seem to come from eating a wide variety from each of these subgroups. The five subgroups are: Flavonols, Flavan-3-ols, Flavones, Flavonones and Anthocyanidins. Food sources in each group are listed below.

Health Benefits:

Flavonoids are most widely acclaimed for antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and support of the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Flavonoids support the cardiovascular system because of their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Flavonoids help protect LDL (bad) cholesterol molecules from oxidative stress. This lowers the risk of atherosclerosis. They also improve the integrity of blood vessel lining and vascular function as well as reduce the dangerous clumping of platelets.

An apple a day along with a nice cup of tea, a small piece of dark chocolate and a simple glass of red wine can offer you a head start on getting enough flavonoids to improve your health. Since eating a wide variety of flavonoids seems to be the best way to get the health benefits, let’s look at some of the top foods in each of the subcategories. You will note that some foods fall into more than one subcategory which offers you 2-fold benefits.

Flavonols group: Flavonols are made up of quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and isorhamnetin. While these words seem complicated, the foods that provide them are simple and easy to find. Quercetin has been studied extensively for its antihistamine properties; it is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Onions, apples, kale, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, almonds, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, quinoa all are loaded with Flavonols.

Flavan-3-ols Group: Flavan-3-ols are made up of catechins, epicatechins, gallocatechins, and theaflavins. The greatest source for this group is tea- both green and black provide high amounts of catechins. Other fod sources include apples, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, pears, peaches. It is the catechins that gives tea – black, green and white such amazing health benefits.

Flavones Group: Flavones are made up of apigenin and luteolin. Food sources include lettuce, cantaloupe, chili peppers, watermelon, oranges, apples, celery, bell peppers, and parsley.

Flavonones Group: Flavonones include hesperetin, naringenin, and eriodictyol. Think citrus for food sources. These include oranges, lemons, tomatoes, grapefruit. They are linked with improved cardiovascular health, relaxation and are associated with cardiovascular health, relaxation and overall antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.

Anthocyanidins Group: Anthocyanidinsinclude cyanidin, delphinidin, malvidin, pelargonidin, peonidin, and petunidin. Berries are your best ‘go to’ for sources of this group- blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, cherries, bananas, pears, cabbage, plums and garbanzo beans, pomegranates; red wine; and red and purple grapes. Anthocyanidins are linked to improved heart health, have strong antioxidant effects and can help with diabetes and obesity prevention.

How many flavonoids should you get each day?

The study suggests that the magic number for flavonoid intake benefits is 500 milligrams.  You can easily get to this number by sipping a cup of tea, eating an apple and an orange for snacks, adding ½ cup of broccoli to your meal, and munching ½ cup of berries for dessert (along with an ounce of 72+% dark cacao chocolate.  Eating a wide variety of flavonoid rich foods gives you the full spectrum of health benefits of the many groups and subgroups of the over 6000 different types of flavonoids.

Just this small amount of nutritious foods was shown in the study to reduce the overall risk of mortality by 17%, reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 15% and reduce the risk of dying from cancer by 20%.

Logging your food every day in the Rolling Strong App is a great way to track how many servings of fruits, veggies and flavonoids you are getting each day. Tracking your intake helps to see just how much control we really have over our health and longevity.

By:  Cindy Luisi, WHE, WHC, CCP CDL Wellness Coach