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A Flavonoid-Rich Diet May Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Risk by 26%, Study Finds

Key Takeaways

  • New research associated a flavonoid-rich diet with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Flavonoids are plant compounds found in berries, apples, citrus fruits, and legumes.
  • Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables in general, so experts recommend consuming more produce regardless of the flavonoid content.

A diet rich in flavonoids—compounds found in foods like tea, berries, and apples—can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study.

The study, which followed over 113,000 participants for 12 years, revealed that those who consumed six servings of flavonoid-rich foods daily had a 26% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those with minimal intake. 

Researchers suggested that flavonoid-rich foods may reduce type 2 diabetes risk by improving liver and kidney function, inflammation, and sugar metabolism.

Previous studies have also found that dietary flavonoids may protect against type 2 diabetes and improve biomarkers like lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

Over 38 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and rates are expected to increase in young people. However, certain lifestyle factors—including diet—can help prevent or slow the progression of type 2 diabetes.

“So much of managing type two diabetes is going to deal with diet,” Dolores Woods, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian with UTHealth Houston, told Verywell.

Eating fruits and vegetables with flavonoids instead of less nutritious calorie-dense options can help with weight and blood sugar management, Woods said.

“Having those dietary changes really goes a long way with delaying type 2 diabetes,” she added.

Are You Eating Enough Flavonoids?

Anyone who wants to eat more flavonoid-rich foods to reduce inflammation and chronic disease risk can start with produce. Apples, kale, onions, oranges, grapes, celery, berries, grapefruit, red wine, tea, legumes, and soybeans all contain flavonoids.

“If they’re growing in the soil, you’re probably going to get some flavonoids in that way,” said Jeanette M. Andrade, PhD, RDN, LDN, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Florida.

Flavonoids, like other plant compounds, protect against chronic disease in part by reducing inflammation.

When you consume flavonoids, these compounds break down and may bind to inflamed markers to help move them out of your system, Andrade explained.

“Type 2 diabetes, like cardiovascular disease, obesity, and kidney disease, are all considered inflamed states,” she said.

Some evidence suggests consuming more than 500 milligrams per day helps protect against chronic disease. However, it’s hard to track flavonoid intake since the amount varies in different foods.

In general, a diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables would be beneficial. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults eat 1.5 to 2.5 cups of fruit and two to four cups of vegetables each day, depending on age and sex.

“Everyone should benefit from eating, in general, more fruits and vegetables, whether or not there’s ‘X amount’ of flavonoids in one product versus another product,” Andrade said.

How Can You Eat More Fruits and Vegetables?

Most Americans don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables despite their health benefits.

Woods said that if you struggle to eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables, consider small changes like eating an apple or some berries every day.

“Then start incorporating more and more vegetables. Find different ways—it could be smoothies and salads or even putting some of these ingredients in rice or pasta,” Woods said.

While eating more flavonoid-rich foods is a good idea for everyone, these foods alone won’t prevent every chronic disease, Andrade said.

Managing stress and getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week, along with eating a balanced, nutritious diet, all play a role in delaying or preventing type 2 diabetes.

“Are you drinking enough water? Are you doing any sort of physical activity,” Andrade said. “It’s more the whole lifestyle approach.”

What This Means For You

Eating flavonoid-rich foods can help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. However, these alone will not prevent disease risk so focus on eating more fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

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