It seems like there’s a new “must eat” food or nutrient popping up every day—and flavonoids are no exception. If you want to get the maximum natural nutrition possible, making sure you incorporate foods with flavonoids into your diet is a good idea. These compounds are found in many fruits and vegetables, but you can also find them in chocolate, tea and even wine. (Now that sounds like a diet we’d enjoy sticking to.)
So what’s the deal with flavonoids, and what makes them different from other nutrients? Read on to find out.
What are flavonoids and what do they do?
Flavonoids are compounds rich in antioxidants. As you might know, antioxidants are great for inhibiting free radical production and preventing cell damage. They prevent oxidation, which is the chemical reaction that creates free radicals. Free radicals are waste produced by your cells—if your body can’t process and get rid of the free radicals, they’ll start doing damage to your tissues and organs. This is called oxidative stress. That can result in diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer, among others.
Flavonoids can also calm inflammation, which is an immune response—you might suffer from inflammation due to allergens, irritants, germs and toxins. Flavonoids help subdue the inflammation, which will make you feel better overall.
Oxidative stress can also be externally induced. You might cause it on your own by exercising excessively or smoking. Or you might come into contact with radiation, environmental pollution, ozone and industrial solvents.
While the body produces flavonoids on its own, sometimes that’s simply not enough. Eating a diet rich in flavonoids ensures that there’s plenty of free-radical-fighting firepower to go around.
Obviously, eating flavonoids are not going to be a cure-all—but eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of flavonoids is helpful. Research has shown that they’re helpful in preventing inflammation and disease. If you already have the diseases mentioned above, flavonoids may help mitigate any damage you’ve already incurred, and prevent them from further affecting your body. How much of an effect they have is still up for debate, but research looks promising.
For those interested in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, flavonoids factor heavily into those ancient methods of healing. These compounds are part of the polyphenol class of phytonutrients, which have long been regarded in non-Western cultures as helpful for regulating blood sugar and blood pressure, skin protection and brain function.
Try these foods rich in flavonoids
There are six flavonoid subtypes. Try these foods to get your daily dose.
- Anthocyanins. Any flower or berry with a deep red or purple hue contains anthocyanins. Find them in red wine, blackberries, cranberries, red or purple grapes, blueberries and strawberries.
- Flavan-3-ols. Apples, blackberries, blueberries, purple and red grapes, strawberries, chocolate, and white, black, green and oolong tea all have plenty of flavan-3-ols.
- Flavanols. Grapes and red wine, onions, kale, peaches, berries, tomatoes, tea, broccoli, scallions and lettuce offer flavanols.
- Flavanones. These foods are especially good as anti-inflammatories. Try eating more oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes.
- Flavones. Flavones give flowering plants blue and white pigments, and they’re a natural pesticide to boot!. You can get a good dose with celery, chamomile, parsley, peppermint and red peppers.
- Isoflavones. These flavonoids are thought to help balance your body’s hormones. Get them in soy products like tofu, soybeans and other legumes, like fava beans. And since chianti is a red wine, now we know Hannibal Lecter probably ate a flavonoid-rich diet.
There’s no “recommended daily dose” of flavonoids, so feel free to incorporate all, some or just a few of these foods into your diet. It never hurts to be a more conscious eater, especially when you understand why certain foods are so good for you. Plus, not only do flavonoids make your red wine and chocolate cravings a little more virtuous, but many of these food items are great in salads and smoothies—foods health-conscious people are probably eating anyway. You could even try switching out one of your daily cups of coffee for a cup of tea.
While flavonoids aren’t the be-all end-all of healthy eating (and drinking), they’re already found in healthy foods. Incorporating more of these specific foods into your diet should be easy to do…and if you find that your oranges, limes, grapefruit and lemons end up in a nice summery cocktail rather than standing on their own, we won’t tell.