Fabulous Flavonoids

A new study from Finland adds to the evidence of health benefits from flavonoids, a group of plant chemicals found in many fruits, vegetables, tea and wine. New research confirms that those foods are indeed the best sources of flavonoids.

Much of the flavonoids’ protection against cancer and heart disease seems related to their antioxidant power. Our cells are constantly exposed to “free radicals” and other highly reactive substances created by normal body processes and by external sources like smoke and pollution. These substances can damage our cells’ DNA, which can lead to the development of cancer. Flavonoids can prevent injury from these free radicals by converting them to more stable, less-reactive forms.


As antioxidants, flavonoids may also protect against heart disease. By stabilizing reactive substances, they help prevent damage to blood vessels and keep cholesterol carriers in less harmful forms. In laboratory studies, some flavonoids can also slow the rate at which cells grow and reproduce. That ability helps decrease the chance of permanent cell damage that can lead to cancer.

A new Finnish study found that those on diets highest in certain flavonoids suffered almost 60% less lung and prostate cancer and had more than 20% fewer deaths from heart disease. If North Americans would boost fruit and vegetable consumption to reach the recommended five to ten servings a day, flavonoid consumption would easily reach a very healthy range.


Some people think of red wine as one of the best sources of flavonoids. While it does contain a variety of health-promoting phytochemicals, these substances are also found in fruits and vegetables. In fact, tea provides three to five times more of the most common flavonoids than equal amounts of red wine. Onions and apples are identified as the most concentrated sources among fruits and vegetables. Other good sources include apricots, blueberries, cherries, grapes, broccoli, beans and kale.

Of course, flavonoids can’t perform magic. They are just one group of protectors in fruits and vegetables. The new research simply offers more incentive to follow the advice of the American Institute for Cancer Research and boost our consumption—and the variety—of fruits and vegetables to five to ten servings per day.

“Nutrition Notes” is provided as a public service by the American Institute for Cancer Research, 1759 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009