When it comes to overall health, researchers are finding that an important piece of the nutritional puzzle extends far beyond macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and even the best micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Many of the latest, impressive evidence-based health discoveries are actually connected to a lesser-known area of micronutrients: plant compounds (also called phytonutrients, plant chemicals, polyphenols, or phenolic compounds), which occur naturally in many plant foods.
One study links a higher intake of flavonols to a reduced risk of frailty
New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has linked a higher intake of a particular type of plant compound called flavonols with a lower risk of age-related frailty.
This prospective cohort study with individuals from the Framingham Heart Study evaluated the relationship between dietary intake of flavonols and frailty. The Framingham Heart Study is a decade-long research group seeking to transform heart disease healthcare and in the process has discovered much more about the body than just the relationship between lifestyle and heart health (such as the association of plant compounds to fragility, for example).
The study found that increased intake of flavonol-rich foods, particularly those rich in quercetin, was associated with a reduced risk of developing frailty. In fact, the results showed that an additional 10 milligrams (mg) of flavonols per day resulted in a 20% lower risk of frailty.
What are Flavonols?
With over 8,000 plant compounds known to date, classification is the name of the game. Flavonols are a subclass of the flavonoid class, which is the most abundant group of plant chemicals found in the diet. And within the flavonol subclass is a list of notable plant compounds you may have heard of, including quercetin and kaempferol, due to their impressive health benefits (more on that later).
What is fragility?
While there is no definite medical definition of frailty, healthcare professionals are starting to come up with their own as emerging data shows that this condition is actually linked to more serious health conditions and a decrease in overall longevity. In general, frailty in this context is associated with an aging-related state of increased vulnerability that renders an individual less resilient to both normal and acute life stressors.
Healthcare researchers created the Frailty Index composed of five criteria that, when at least three of them are met, qualify a person as clinically frail. These include generalized weakness, tiredness, slowness in daily activities, weight loss and lack of activity. Because of the negative health consequences that may be associated with frailty, it has become a more pressing public health issue for older adults.
Health benefits of flavonols
In addition to their effectiveness in reducing the risk of age-related conditions like frailty, flavonols are robust health enhancers on a multitude of fronts throughout the body. This is mainly due to their antioxidant properties, which work to reduce inflammation and disease-causing free radicals in the body and help boost our immune systems. Free radicals and oxidative stress are intimately linked in the body. These unstable molecules, when able to accumulate in large quantities, are associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders, among many others.
The research on flavonols and some of the specific phytonutrients found within this subclass is pretty impressive. All flavonoids, including flavonols, are known to be robust anticancer agents in the body with therapeutic potential for nearly every type of this pervasive diagnosis. Meanwhile, the compound quercetin (within the flavonol subclass of flavonoids) has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, bacterial infections, and even arthritis. Another well-studied flavonol, kaempferol, offers many of these same benefits with the addition of protective mechanisms for intestinal and respiratory health.
How much of these flavonols should you eat each day?
Despite these powerful benefits, there is still no official recommendation on the daily intake of flavonols as there are for nutrients such as, for example, B vitamins or fiber.
That said, some health care professionals recommend that Americans collectively consume at least five to nine servings per day, based on daily servings of fruits and vegetables, which are the primary and most abundant sources of dietary flavonols.
How to eat (and drink) more flavonols every day
While you’re likely to get at least some flavonols from nearly every product you take, some options stand out above the rest. Adding more of these foods into your daily diet can help you reap all of the amazing health benefits of flavonols, including maintaining and supporting strength and stamina as you age.
Here are some of the best places to find flavonols in food and drink, including some unexpected choices:
- Main fruit sources of flavonol: Grapes, watermelon, cherries, apricots, apples, berries, citrus fruits, kiwis, peaches
- Main plant sources of flavonol: Cabbage, spinach, onion, broccoli, tomato (technically a fruit), lettuce, celery, artichoke, kale, fennel, leek, pepper, watercress, rocket, endive, asparagus
- Top herb and spice sources of flavonol: Chives, dill, oregano, parsley, thyme, cinnamon, capers, shallots, garlic
- Main sources of flavonol nuts and seeds: Pistachios, almonds
- Other great sources: Green tea, red wine (and associated products such as red wine vinegar), buckwheat
With these options you can unleash your culinary prowess, creating so many delicious plant-based dishes. A punchy puttanesca can harness the healing power of flavonols in capers, garlic and tomatoes, while a tangy Greek salad can highlight artichokes, lettuce, tomatoes, oregano and red wine vinegar. It’s hard to beat a refreshing fruit salad as the hot summer days approach, as well as an iced green tea for an invigorating afternoon. Homemade Cinnamon Applesauce is also a flavonol-packed dish for your little ones (and loved ones, who are we kidding?).
The oft-forgotten, gluten-free buckwheat cooks similar to quinoa for the perfect cereal bowl base, whether you throw in a Greek, Italian, Mexican, or Asian twist. There are some satisfying snack options here too, like pistachios, almonds, and apples.
Regardless of your age, the latest research findings on flavonols and frailty are exciting. The higher our intake of this important plant compound when we were young, old, or anywhere in between, the less likely we are to worry about frailty and all the health impacts that often come with it.
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