Nutrition

Flavanols are linked to better memory and heart health, here’s what foods you can eat to reap these benefits

A table showing the number of servings of certain foods needed to get 500 mg of flavanols per day.
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There are many good reasons to make sure you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables each day. Not only do fruits and vegetables contain many of the important vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function at their best, they also keep our gut healthy and may even help maintain a healthy weight.

But some plant foods may be more beneficial to your health than others, thanks to a group of compounds called flavanols.

For example, a recent study I helped lead showed that people who eat a diet high in flavanol-rich foods may have better memory than those who have low intakes. An earlier study also found that people with low flavanol intakes were at higher risk for heart disease. Overall, there is compelling evidence that consuming enough flavanols has health benefits.

But while research shows flavanols have many health benefits, it’s important for consumers to know that not all flavanol-rich foods contain the same amount of flavanols, meaning some may be more beneficial to your health than others. .

Plant compounds

Flavanols are a group of compounds found in many plants including apples, berries, plums, and even beverages like tea.

There are two main groups of flavanols, with many different subgroups. Each plant will also contain different combinations of flavanols. Each of these compounds has different structures and different effects on the body. This means that not all flavanols are created equal.

For example, a serving of blueberries and a cup of tea may contain the same amount of total flavanols but are made up of entirely different types of flavanols, which can have entirely different health effects.

Hence, to study the health effects of flavanols, it is therefore important to use a source that includes a wide range of different types. That’s why flavanols extracted from cocoa are an ideal model, as they contain the two main types of flavanols. It also allows researchers to calculate which other foods might have benefits based on how similar the compounds they contain are to cocoa flavanols.

Because foods like cocoa, berries, and tea contain a combination of many types of flavanols, it’s currently unclear which individual compounds generate health benefits. But some research has linked the specific epicatechin flavanol with improved vascular function. Cocoa and tea both contain epicatechin.

Many different types

Another thing to know is that even if a food contains flavanols, it may contain lower amounts than others.

To better understand how flavanol intake affects health, we developed a test a few years ago that uses urine to measure flavanol intake. The test is based on how the human body processes flavanols and tells us whether someone ate large amounts, small amounts, or no flavanols at all.

Using this test, we were able to show that people with a high intake of flavanols had lower blood pressure and better memory than those with a lower intake.

When we developed the urine test, we also studied how it is affected by different types of flavanols and foods. This allowed us to estimate the amount of different flavanol-rich foods a person must consume to obtain approximately 500mg of flavanols per day similar to the amount used in studies, which has been shown to have clinical benefits.

A table showing the number of servings of certain foods needed to get 500 mg of flavanols per day.
Number of servings needed from different flavanol-containing foods to obtain 500 mg per day.
Gunter Kuhnle, Author provided

According to our research, you only need two and a half cups of green tea per day to get the recommended 500 mg of flavanols. Even just under a cup of millet (sorghum grain) can provide you with the recommended daily amount.

But if you were to try to get your flavanols from one type of fruit and vegetable, our research shows you’d need to consume large amounts of them to reach the recommended amount. For example, you’d have to consume nearly 15 cups of raspberries alone to get 500 mg of flavanols.

Therefore, the best way to get enough flavanols each day is to consume a combination of different fruits and vegetables. For example, two apples, a serving of pecans and a large serving of strawberries can reach the 500 mg goal or a salad made with millet and fava beans.

It’s also important to note that while the flavanols used in many studies were extracted from cocoa, unfortunately chocolate (even dark) is a very poor source of flavanols despite what some headlines may claim. This is because these flavanols are lost during processing.

While there is still a lot we don’t know about flavanols, such as why they have the effect they do on so many aspects of our health, it is clear from the research we have that they are most likely beneficial for both memory and body health. Heart.

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