Flavonoids are a class of organic compounds found in plants. These micronutrients, or better yet phytonutrients, are known to exhibit strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
All flavonoids are part of a larger chemical group of compounds known as polyphenols, and flavonoids themselves are grouped into six subclasses: anthocyanins, flavonols, flavan-3-ols, flavanones, flavones, and isoflavones.
Many fruits and vegetables are high in flavonoids, as are certain plant-derived products believed to have a variety of health benefits, such as wine, chocolate, coffee and tea. Flavonols are the most commonly consumed subclass of flavonoids, though all six of the subclasses can be found in specific plant foods, with varying degrees of potential benefit.
The possible health benefits of flavonoids are extensive. Research has connected consumption of flavonoid-rich foods, drinks, and certain flavonoid supplements, especially those containing anthocyanidins and flavan-3-ols, to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Consuming flavonols in particular has also been connected to reducing the risk of strokes. The anti-cancer potential of certain flavonoids is also promising, though research to this point is mostly inconclusive. Increasing cognitive function and limiting neurodegeneration, and limiting pain, are also other potential health benefits that can be derived from flavonoid consumption.
In both diabetes prevention and management, flavonoids appear to be very beneficial. Different classes of flavonoids have been connected to limiting the impacts of diabetic complications such as neuropathy and retinopathy, while other studies have shown promise in using flavonoid supplements (or possibly industrial pharmaceuticals) to help manage diabetes. In regards to diabetes prevention, flavonoids, especially anthocyanins and flavones, have been connected to inhibiting insulin resistance, therefore decreasing diabetes risk.
Foods particularly high in flavonoids (and also recommended for overall health) include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Berries(especially red, purple and blue colored berries, which are rich in anthocyanins and flavonols),
- Unsweetened dark chocolate(flavan-3-ols),
- Red wine(also a good source of anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols),
- Tea(green, white and black all providing different subclasses of flavonoids in varying quantity)
- Apples(flavonols and flavan-3-ols)
- Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit and lime(flavanones)
While focusing on specific foods or supplements that have high concentrations of certain flavonoids may be a good and conscious decision in chronic disease prevention and management, it is not a necessity to take this reductionist approach. Eating a balanced and healthful diet of varied fresh whole plant foods will undoubtedly introduce a wide range of flavonoids into the body.
Diverse diets of whole foods is what humans are meant to consume; it is how we naturally get all the nutrients that we need to function optimally. The healthful impacts of flavonoids and the wide-range of whole food plant sources that they come from, further reinforces this reality.
Resources and Further Reading
All about flavonoids, their subclasses, potential health benefits and foods they come from:
How flavonoids help limit diabetic complications like neuropathy and retinopathy:
How specific flavonoids help limit insulin resistance and their potential as a preventative supplement and treatment for diabetes:
Flavonoids and their reducing of risk for cardiovascular disease:
Flavonols and their ability to reduce risk of Strokes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24342529
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