If you’re trying to get the most bang for your nutrition buck, the safest bet is usually the produce section. When looking at fruits and vegetables, the number of beneficial nutrients they contain is quite staggering. And as science allows us to look at smaller and smaller molecules, we can learn more about the benefits that they offer to our health.
The nutrients that fruits and vegetables contain have been shown to hold properties that provide protection against cancer, reduce oxidative stress on the body, and can help reduce levels of inflammation. One such specific group of micronutrients are the flavonoids, which includes flavonols, flavones and anthocyanidins, among others.
Across the board, people who have the greatest intake of flavones from high consumption of fruits and vegetables generally have lower risk factors for many common health conditions we see today. Research has found that women with the highest intake of anthocyanins and flavones had the lowest levels of insulin resistance and inflammation. Good sources include the dark berries like raspberries, blackberries and cranberries.
Other research published in the British Journal of Nutrition also found that the intake of six classes of flavonoids (flavonols, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins, flavones, flavanones and flavan-3-ols) significantly decrease the risk of heart disease. This is due to the effect they have on protecting the endothelial walls in our blood vessels to help prevent damage and plaque formation.
And it’s not just heart vessels that are protected. A 20-year study conducted by researchers from Harvard University found men who habitually ate foods rich in flavonoids three times a week had a reduced incidence of erectile dysfunction as they aged.
Even though they tend to be a little more potent and can turn some people off by their strong flavors, onions and garlic have long been known for their health boosting properties. The flavonoid quercetin is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that may help fight chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer by preventing damaged cells from advancing to cancer cells and reducing levels of inflammation that promote the damage in the first place.
On the other end of the spectrum, chocolate has even shown beneficial properties (but not from your typical sugar-laden candy bars, so don’t go reaching for those too quickly!) Pure cocoa, cacao and dark chocolate all contribute flavonols that may be protective for brain and nerve cells that can be damaged after a stroke. They also have shown regenerative effects in blood vessel function in diabetics.
With so many health benefits, we should all be trying to get more flavonoids into our diets. The easiest way to do this is by eating a wide variety of foods, focusing mainly on vegetables and fruits. In addition to the ones listed above, other great sources of flavonoids include blueberries, apples, parsley, kale, bell peppers and green tea.
While the effects may not be noticeable from the outside, the benefits they provide internally day by day will be evident later down the road when you have less health problems to deal with as a result of supplying your body with optimal protective nutrition.
Need help on how to incorporate them into your diet? Check out our Facebook page for recipes that include many healthy fruit and vegetable ingredients.