How To Understand Flavonoids

If you've never heard of flavonoids or have never been certain what they are, you're in for a healthy treat.  No, flavonoids aren't the devoted followers of VH1's hit show about rapper/TV personality Flavor Flav.  And they aren't the name of a group of intergalactic trenchermen either, if you believe the government.  The truth about flavonoids is even more spectacular, and a solid understanding of them could dramatically change your life...

What are flavonoids?  Vitamins get all the attention, while flavonoids quietly work their wonders.

You won't find flavonoids starring in TV shows or piloting spacecrafts, but you'll find them in your backyard vegetable garden.  Flavonoids are a group of pigment compounds in plants.  Considering that they give plums their characteristic hue and help make cranberries red, it may surprise you that these flamboyant compounds had flown under the nutrition radar for so long.  Flavonoids also serve as strong antioxidants - a term that is more familiar to you and me.  There are several categories of flavonoid:

  1. Flavonols - Find these flavonoids in green fruits and vegetables like onion and leeks, apple and broccoli, as well as teas (black and green) and tomatoes.
  2. Flavanones - Citrus fruits are a great source.
  3. Flavones - Look for these in celery and parsley.
  4. Catechins - A fun flavonoid found in dark chocolate and red wine!  You'll also find it in quite a few fruits like peach and apricot, apple (once again), friendly little cherries and grapes.  Don't leave berries out - reach for some blackberries or raspberries.  And green tea is rich in catechins as well.
  5. Isoflavones - Many soy-based substances contain isoflavones.  Get yourself some tofu or soy milk.
  6. Anthocyanins - Those of you with a plum tree are in luck.  Your body will thank you if you eat cranberries, cherries, currants and blueberries.  Toss in some blackberries, too!  And you can wash it all down with that glass of red wine.  

Flavonoids can be found in many different fruits, vegetables and some drinks like green tea and red wine.  As you can see, berries and greens are some of the best sources.  If you like the taste of blueberries, then devour them every chance you get.  And if you don't like blueberries, now's the time to develop a taste for them.  There's no such thing as too much green tea, either - one of the healthiest, most flavonoid-packed drinks around.

What can flavonoids do for me?  Here are some of the health benefits.

  1. Acting as antioxidants, flavonoids help our bodies fight off the effects of free radicals that can lead to cancer.  You know the old saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away?"  Well, the flavonols and catechins in apples might just be two of the key ingredients that lend credence to that expression; studies suggest that these two types of flavonoids, along with flavones, can reduce your risk of getting cancer.
  2. Risk of cardiovascular illness might also be reduced through consumption of flavonoids.  You might have heard that moderate red wine consumption (like a glass a day) can keep your cardiovascular system healthy, but maybe you didn't know that the catechins in red wine might be the reason for this health benefit.  Though that's good news for us wine fans, flavonols and flavanones are the real superstar flavonoids in studies that indicate a strong link between flavonoids and cardiovascular health.  So maybe instead of that glass of wine, you should reach for a soothing cup of green tea.  Once again, flavonoids are the unsung heroes!
  3. Evidence suggests that flavonoids help us reduce inflammation, fight off viruses and lessen allergic response.

As you can see, there's much more to nutrition than vitamins and the food pyramid.  We're only beginning to uncover the role played by the elements in our diet that are less traditionally praised, like flavonoids.  Eat your fruit, drink your green tea, and occasionally enjoy a glass of red wine.  You'll not regret it.


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