What do blueberries, spinach and dark chocolate have in common? They’re all rich in flavonoids, the chemical compounds found in plants that give them color – and medicinal powers. Research shows flavonoids provide a wide range of health benefits, from fighting cancer and lowering the risk for heart disease to preserving brain function. They’ve even been used to fight wrinkles.
Why are flavonoids good for us?
“The key reason flavonoids are good for us is they have anti-inflammatory effects and are antioxidants,” says Kristina Petersen, an assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
Antioxidants help fight inflammation and aging. Flavonoids also have properties that could help prevent blood clots. And a study published last year in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension suggests flavonoids in foods such as berries, red wine, apples and pears may influence gut bacteria in a way that lowers blood pressure.
Because of this, flavonoids play a central role in the Mediterranean, DASH and MIND diets, the eating patterns most recommended by heart and brain health experts. While there are some differences, all three place a heavy focus on flavonoid-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans.
But most people in the U.S. aren’t getting enough flavonoids, largely because they don’t eat the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables. Federal dietary guidelines recommend adults eat 1.5-2 cups of fruit each day and 3-4 cups of vegetables. But only 1 in 10 U.S. adults eat that many vegetables and only 1 in 8 eat a sufficient amount of fruit, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How to add more flavonoids to your diet
The good news is, flavonoids are found in such a wide range of fruits, vegetables and other foods that it shouldn’t be hard to fit them into your diet, Petersen shares. They’re found in berries of all kinds, cherries, apples, grapes, leeks and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, romaine lettuce and kale. Like garlic and onions? You’ll find them there as well. Soybeans? They’ve got them, too.
Petersen recommends eating a wide range of flavonoid-rich foods for the greatest nutritional value. “The goal is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors. Eat a rainbow,” she says.
If you’re not used to eating a lot of produce, you can build it into your diet slowly, she adds.
“Eat one more piece of fruit per day,” Petersen suggests. “Put one more vegetable on your plate at dinner time. Trying to overhaul your