The more we learn about edible plants - a category that includes nuts and cocoa as well as fruits and vegetables - the healthier they look for us. Results from a large, new study shows that flavonoids, the natural, heart-protective substances found in plants, were associated with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke in seniors. Researchers from the American Cancer Society and Tufts University obtained diet, lifestyle and medical history via questionnaires from more than 98,000 men and women whose average age was 70. Over the next seven years, 2,771 of the study participants died of heart disease or stroke. A total of 615 of these deaths were among the men and women whose reported flavonoid intake was lowest compared to 515 deaths among those whose reported flavonoid intake was highest. The researchers accounted for smoking, exercise habits and weight before concluding that people who obtained the most flavonoids through their diets were 18 percent less likely to die over the seven years than those who consumed the least amount of flavonoids. They noted that while the percentage difference may not appear large, it would make a considerable difference when applied to the entire population. The study was published online Jan. 4, 2012, by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
My take? We’ve known for some time that flavonoids are good for the heart. One of their actions is to help the body make more nitric oxide, a substance that relaxes smooth muscle in blood vessels allowing better blood flow. This study shows that even small increases in foods that provide flavonoids can make an important difference to health. The researchers reported that the seniors in their study who consumed the most flavonoids averaged about 20 weekly servings of fruits and 24 servings of vegetables while those who benefited the least consumed an average of 11 servings of fruit and 18 servings of vegetables per week. That’s a difference that could be overcome by adding one or two servings of edible plants per day. A serving is a half-cup of cooked vegetables or a medium-sized piece of fruit. You could boost your flavonoid intake further with one or two pieces of really good dark chocolate per week.