Older adults who get a moderate amount of certain plant compounds called flavonoids in their diets are less likely to die of heart disease or stroke, a large study finds.
The research, conducted on nearly 100,000 older U.S. adults, found that those getting the most flavonoids in their diets were less likely to die of heart disease or stroke over the next seven years than those who ate the least flavonoids.
Flavonoids are found in a range of plant foods, including many fruits (like berries, citrus and apples) and vegetables (like kale, spinach and broccoli), nuts, soy, dark chocolate, tea and red wine.
Flavonoids have a number of benefits, including fighting inflammation and acting as antioxidants -- which means they help protect body cells from damage that may lead to chronic diseases and cancer.
In the current study, the researchers divided participants into five groups according to the amount of flavonoids they consumed. Those with the highest flavonoid intake were 18 percent less likely to die of heart problems or stroke than the fifth with the lowest intake.
The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, are based on more than 98,000 men and women who filled out questionnaires on diet, lifestyle and medical history. At the time, they were about 70 years old, on average.
Over the next seven years, 2,771 people died of heart disease or stroke. That included 615 deaths in the fifth with the lowest flavonoid intake at the outset, and 515 deaths in the fifth with the highest intake.
When McCullough's team accounted for other factors -- like smoking, exercise habits and weight -- people getting the most flavonoids had an 18 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular trouble.
Flavonoid-rich foods also contain many other healthful nutrients. So it's hard to know whether the compounds, themselves, deserve the credit for the lower cardiovascular risks. For example, another recent study linked magnesium-rich foods, which include nuts and dark leafy greens that are also high in flavonoids, to lowered stroke risk.
The bottom line: getting more plant foods in your diet may make a difference in your health and longevity. And these findings suggest it may not take a huge diet change.
The people with the highest flavonoid intake in the study averaged about 20 servings of fruits and 24 servings of vegetables per week. The lowest-intake group got about 11 servings of fruit and 18 servings of vegetables per week.
Lower risks were also seen among older adults whose flavonoid intake fell in between the highest and lowest groups, however.
A half cup of cooked vegetables or a medium-sized piece of fresh fruit are reach considered one serving.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.