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New Guidelines on Flavanols Can Help Improve Health

People who get 400 to 600 mg of flavanols in their daily diets are less likely to suffer from diabetes or cardiovascular problems.

For generations, children have been urged to eat their fruits and vegetables. Now, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has issued guidelines that support this advice (Advances in Nutrition, Oct 3, 2022). In addition to energy, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, plant products contain special compounds called flavanols.

Getting Your Daily Dose of Flavanols:

Previous research indicated that people consuming more flavanols (specifically flavan-3-ols) have lower cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure (Systematic Reviews, July 18, 2018). These randomized controlled trials and cohort studies compared cocoa polyphenols or flavanols from tea, berries, apples or red wine. Volunteers consuming these phytonutrients had significantly lower levels of blood sugar, blood pressure and serum lipids. Their C-reactive protein levels were also lower, indicating less inflammation. In addition, their blood vessels relaxed more readily (measured as flow-mediated dilation).

After reviewing the results of 157 controlled trials and 15 cohort studies, nutrition experts concluded that everyone should get between 400 and 600 mg of flavanols per day. People whose diets provide these plant-based compounds regularly are less likely to develop diabetes or cardiovascular complications.

The authors of the article in Advances in Nutrition note:

“Such research reports that the health-promoting properties of flavonoids are likely due to a synergistic combination of their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic properties along with their modulating effects on cellular enzyme functionality.”

New Research Results Highlight the Importance of Flavanols for Aging Brains:

Older people who don’t get enough flavanols could be putting their brains at risk (PNAS, May 30, 2023). A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University shows that these dietary compounds improve memory, but only in older people with low levels to begin with.

The investigators analyzed data from 3,562 volunteers in the COSMOS trial. Every day for three years, these participants took a placebo or a daily dietary supplement providing 500 mg of cocoa flavanols. The participants provided detailed information about their diets and completed multiple tests to assess their cognitive function. Among those with the lowest levels of flavanols in their diets and their urine, the supplements boosted scores on memory tests 10 percent more than those on placebo. Not all scientists are ready to embrace the conclusions of this study, but many are intrigued by the possibility that aging brains need specific nutrients for optimal health.

Where Do You Find Flavan-3-ols?

These are the colorful compounds in vegetables, fruits and other plant products. A summary from the USDA shows that the top 10 sources in the American diet of flavan-3-ols are black tea (hot or iced), beer (because of the hops), apple juice, apples, bananas, blueberries, peaches, pears and strawberries. Although they are less popular in the US, green, white and oolong tea are also great sources for these compounds. Cinnamon and certain other spices also contribute to intake, although the overall quantity eaten is small.

Racking up 400 to 600 mg of flavanols a day might be a challenge for some of us. One of the best sources, black tea, has 109 mg in 100 ml (about half a cup). Green tea offers 133 mg/100 ml, and oolong tea has 49.4 mg/100 ml. The nutrition experts specify that we should drink our tea rather than take extracts. Green tea extracts, in particular, are hard on the liver.

Red wine, in contrast to tea, provides only about 17 mg/100 ml. In 100 g (about 3.5 ounces) of apple, you get almost 14 mg of flavan-3-ols, while apricots offer about 8 mg in those three ounces. Dark chocolate is a standout with 108 mg/100 g. Of course, in that much dark chocolate, you also get between 500 and 600 calories. That might well be more than you want. It makes sense to select chocolate with the least amount of sugar. Unfortunately, you may have trouble determining the flavonoid content.

CocoaVia Supplements as a Source of Flavanols:

That’s why we suggest looking into CocoaVia supplements. The CardioHealth capsules and powder each provide 5oo mg of cocoa flavanoids in a daily dose. This is essentially the same formulation Mars Edge provided the COSMOS scientists for use in the study. Consequently, we feel confident in recommending CocoaVia. We also need to let you know that CocoaVia sponsors our podcasts and public radio broadcasts.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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