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Eating a variety of vegetables and other flavonol-rich foods may lower your mortality risk. Natalia Gdovskaia/Getty Images
  • Consuming flavonol, a naturally occurring chemical compound in fruits and vegetables is one key to good health.
  • In a new study, higher consumption of flavonol was associated with lower risk of death from things like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • Experts say eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is key to consuming enough flavonol.

Flavonols — chemical compounds found in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables — show a wide range of health benefits, including improving outcomes for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and more.

The compound, which has antioxidant properties, is found in foods like onions, apples, tomatoes, and coffee, is part of a larger class of naturally occurring chemicals that are regularly consumed in plant-derived food and drink known as flavonoids.

Scientists have known for some time that flavonoids are associated with health benefits. You can even find some flavonols, like quercetin, available as nutritional supplements due to their supposed healthy effects.

Now the findings of a large population study of nearly 12,000 US adults have shown even more evidence supporting the myriad effects of flavonol on health. Researchers found that people who consumed more flavonol had lower incidences of death overall, as well as lower incidences of cancers, and cardiovascular diseases. The results also illustrated a dose-dependent effect, meaning that the more people consumed, the better their outcomes were compared to those that consumed less.

The study was published in Scientific Reports on February 25.

That’s a long-winded way of saying: eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you!

“I’m not at all surprised at the results of the study as many previous studies have shown an association between flavonoids and reduction of risk of several diseases as well as mortality risk,” said Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS RD, a Dietician with Cleveland Clinic, and co-author of Regenerative Health, told Healthline. She wasn’t involved with the study.

Additionally, researchers were also able to identify health outcomes for specific flavonol compounds, such as quercetin, giving even more insight into the ways these chemicals affect disease.

Katherine Donelan, MS, RD, an oncology dietician with Stanford Health Care, called the findings “a no-brainer.”

“[Flavonols] are the special sauce, the magic ingredients that do the good things that we know fruits and vegetables do,” she said.

To identify the associations between flavonol and mortality risk, researchers at the Anhui Medical University in China utilized electronic records from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES is an ongoing public dataset in the United States that is intended to help identify trends in health, diet, and disease among the American population.

Three years of NHANES data, including 11,679 individuals at least 20 years of age were used for the research; the average age of participants was 47. The group was diverse, which is intentional, since the NHANES is intended to represent the diverse population of the US. Participants were evenly split between men and women. In terms of ethnicity, about 50% were white, almost 20% were black, 16% Mexican American, and 17% other ethnicities.

Using dietary data from the participants, researchers were able to estimate their average consumption of flavonols per day. Flavonols can be found in a variety of naturally occurring foods, including onions, kale, lettuce, grapes, and berries; as well as black tea, chocolate, and wine.

In addition to total flavonol consumption, they also estimated daily consumption of four specific flavonol subtypes: isorhamnetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and quercetin.

Over an average follow-up time of eight years, researchers tracked the number of deaths among the participants, as well as their estimated flavonol consumption to observe any associations between the two.

People who consumed more daily flavonol were less likely to die from general causes, as well as certain specific causes, compared to those who ate the least, the research found. All-cause mortality risk decreased by one-third among those who consumed the most flavonol.

Risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular death also improved with increased flavonol consumption; risk of death from cancer decreased by about half, by one-third from CVD, and one-quarter for Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, the flavonol myricetin had the strongest individual association with Alzhimer’s, lowering risk by two-thirds at the highest consumption level.

Individually, isorhamnetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and quercetin all showed associations with improved outcomes for all-cause mortality and cancer-specific mortality.

The study did not show an association between flavonol consumption and mortality risk from diabetes.

To make sure you’re getting enough flavonol in your diet, make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, you can ensure you are eating a variety of flavonols by varying fruits and vegetables of different colors.

“I advise my patients to get a variety of deeply-hued plants in their diet daily…Just get more color and vary the color! It’s great to have a kale salad every day but this is only giving you one deep color. Add berries to your salad, or choose different plants each night to get different colors in,” said Kirkpatrick.

Donelan emphasized that rather than trying to consume a certain amount of flavonol during the day, people should instead focus on just getting more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diet.

“If you remember back to grade school, get your five fruits and vegetables per day. So many adults these days aren’t even getting that,” she said.

“For the average person, I would not focus on trying to get a certain amount of any sort of phytochemical. I would just focus on trying to get in, you know, five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables,” said Donelan.

Consuming more flavonol, a naturally-occurring chemical found in fruits and vegetables, reduced risk of death from causes including cardiovascular disease and cancer in a new study.

Individuals in the study who consumed the highest level of flavonol saw their risk of death from cancer decrease by half, compared to those who ate the least.

Experts say the key to getting more flavonol in your diet is to eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.