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Flavanols: Does Your Body Need a Boost from These Antioxidants?

It seems like you can’t scroll through social media these days for more than a minute without seeing another nutrient or supplement that promises to improve your body, health or life. 

Flavanol has been trending lately — and for a good reason. These natural compounds, found in fruit, vegetables, some teas and dark chocolate (yay!) are loaded with healthy benefits. 

We talked to Jennifer Marziali, RD, a dietitian with Banner Health, about what makes flavanols so good for you and why you should make sure they’re part of your diet. 

Why are flavanols good for you?

Flavanols (sometimes called flavan-3-ols or catechins) are antioxidants. Antioxidants protect your cells from damage by free radicals, which are molecules linked to health issues like cancer, arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and aging skin.

Flavanols also have anti-inflammatory benefits, which may help protect you from long-term health problems. 

Here are some specific ways flavanols can be good for you:

  • Flavanols support your heart health by lowering your blood pressure, which may help lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Flavanols help your brain because consuming them over time helps with your memory, focus and brain function.
  • Kaempferol, a certain type of flavanol, may help prevent cancer cells from surviving. 
  • Flavonoids, a category that includes flavanols, may help support your immune system and help your body create enzymes that remove toxins. 
  • Flavanols may give some protection against skin damage from the sun’s UV rays. So they may help your skin stay healthier and be more radiant.
  • As part of a balanced diet, flavanols may help you manage your weight. They can help control your appetite, so you don’t overeat. 

Where can you find flavanols?

“Flavanols are most commonly found in colorful fruits and vegetables,” said Marziali. Lots of good-for-you food choices are high in flavonols:

  • Fruits: Berries like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are loaded with flavanols. Apples and peaches are a good option too — be sure to eat the skin, since that’s where you’ll find most of the flavanols.
  • Vegetables: Onions, kale, lettuce, tomatoes and broccoli are great flavanol-rich choices.
  • Beans: Good options are soybeans, black beans and kidney beans.
  • Tea: Both green and black tea contain flavanols, so consider reaching for them for some of your hydration.
  • Red wine: Drinking red wine in moderation can provide flavanols.
  • Dark chocolate: To get the most benefits, look for dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa and low in added sugar.

How to add more flavanols to your diet 

When you plan your meals, it’s easy to include fruits, vegetables and drinks high in flavanols. Try some of these ideas:

  • Add a handful of berries to your cereal, yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast.
  • Make a smoothie with berries, kale, spinach and banana.
  • Keep apples and grapes on hand for snacking. Pair them with peanut butter or a few almonds.
  • Build your salads on a base of kale, lettuce and spinach, and top them with fresh berries and sliced red onions.
  • Sauté onions and add them to omelets, stir-fries, burgers, sandwiches, soups, stews and pasta sauces.
  • Make your own trail mix with dried berries, nuts and dark chocolate.
  • For dessert, have a small piece of dark chocolate, apple crisp or berry cobbler. Or choose baked goods made from whole grains.
  • Drink hot or cold unsweetened green or black tea. If you want a little sweetness, add honey or a splash of fruit juice.
  • If you drink alcohol, choose a glass of red wine.

Flavanols aren’t all the same, so adding a variety of foods that contain them is important. Plus, a diverse diet centered around many healthy foods — not just foods high in flavanols — gives you a range of nutrients that work together to support your health.

“Eat a diet rich in a variety of different fruits and vegetables — aim for five to nine servings each day,” said Marziali. 

Do flavanols have any risks?

Most people will benefit from adding plenty of flavanol-rich foods to their diet. But there are a couple of things to watch for:

  • Some people are allergic to berries and cocoa (found in dark chocolate). If you’re allergic to these foods, you’ll want to choose different sources of flavanols.
  • You can also be allergic to nuts, and you’ll often find nuts paired with flavanol-rich salads, trail mix or dark chocolate.
  • It’s best to consume some types of flavanol-rich foods and drinks in small amounts. A few to be careful with are dark chocolate for its high-calorie content, red wine because of the alcohol and tea that contains caffeine. 

The bottom line

Flavanols are compounds loaded with antioxidants. They’re good for your heart and brain and can help your body fight cancer and other diseases. You’ll find them in some types of fruits, vegetables, beans, teas, red wine and dark chocolate.

If you’d like personalized guidance on how to add more flavanol-rich foods to your diet, reach out to your primary care doctor, a dietitian or a Banner health care provider.

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