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Why Should You Eat Colorful Veggies?

People who consume a flavonoid-rich diet full of colorful veggies, berries and fruits are less likely to die prematurely from heart disease or cancer.
Why Should You Eat Colorful Veggies?
Produce rich in flavonoids

Your mother and possibly your grandmother probably told you to eat your vegetables. But did they tell you to relish colorful veggies most? 

What’s the Story on Colorful Veggies?

Scientists followed more than 56,000 adult Danes for 23 years (Nature Communications, Aug. 13, 2019). The people whose usual diet had the most flavonoids, plant-based compounds abundant in colorful veggies and fruits, fared best.

These individuals were 15% less likely to suffer cardiovascular complications. In addition, their risk of cancer was 20% lower. Moreover, the chance that high-flavonoid consumers would die during the study was 17% lower. The researchers found that people reached their maximum benefit at about 500 mg of flavonoids a day. However, people with significant risk factors–smokers and heavy drinkers–got the most bang for their buck from eating lots of colorful veggies.

Are Danes Unique in Their Response to Flavonoids?

This study from Denmark is not the first to find benefit from a flavonoid-rich diet. A study of more than 2,300 older adults in Australia focused on diet and eye health (Clinical Nutrition, Jan. 17, 2019). When investigators analyzed who died during the 14 years of follow-up, they found that those eating more flavonoid-rich foods were more likely to survive. The link was strongest for those at risk for premature death, such as people who smoked, drank heavily, were obese or did not exercise. Australians got some of their important flavonoid compounds from apples and tea rather than colorful veggies.

Not surprisingly, Americans also do better with flavonoid-rich diets (British Journal of Nutrition, May 2017). More than 93,000 young and middle-aged professional women participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II. During the follow-up period, women who frequently drank red wine or tea and ate peppers, blueberries and strawberries were least likely to die.

Some of the benefits from colorful veggies might be due to the blood-pressure lowering effect of the flavonoids they contain. In addition, flavonoids are known to protect the intestinal lining and help regulate the immune system of the digestive tract (Molecular Aspects of Medicine, June 2018).

Which Colorful Veggies Are Rich in Flavonoids?

Foods rich in flavonoids include red, blue and purple berries, fruits, onions, scallions, kale, broccoli, red and purple grapes, tea, chocolate, cocoa, radishes, red wine, pistachios and pecans. Herbs like parsley and thyme and spices such as chili peppers and cinnamon are also rich in flavonoids, although we usually eat only small quantities. (Source: Linus Pauling Institute)

Some foods that are not well known in the US, such as black currants, are especially rich in flavonoids (Journal of Food Science, Aug. 27, 2019). Perhaps Americans will value such foods more highly as they learn about the benefits of colorful veggies and fruits.

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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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  • Bondonno NP et al, "Flavonoid intake is associated with lower mortality in the Danish Diet Cancer and Health Cohort." Nature Communications, Aug. 13, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-11622-x
  • Bondonno NP et al, "Association of flavonoids and flavonoid-rich foods with all-cause mortality: The Blue Mountains Eye Study." Clinical Nutrition, Jan. 17, 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnu.2019.01.004
  • Ivey KL et al, "Association of flavonoid-rich foods and flavonoids with risk of all-cause mortality." British Journal of Nutrition, May 2017. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114517001325
  • Oteiza PI et al, "Flavonoids and the gastrointestinal tract: Local and systemic effects." Molecular Aspects of Medicine, June 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.mam.2018.01.001
  • Cortez RE & Gonzalez de Mejia E, "Blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum): A review on chemistry, processing, and health benefits." Journal of Food Science, Aug. 27, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/1750-3841.14781
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