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Powerful Anti-oxidant Flavonoids Found In Red Wine And Chocolate

Feb 7, 2008
There's now good evidence that it's not just in fruits and vegetables that health promoting anti-oxidant flavonoids are to be found. These powerful compounds have also been identified in tea, particularly green tea, red wine, beer and even chocolate. So if you've ever suspected that many of those who advocate healthy diets are motivated more by denying you your little pleasures than a genuine interest in your well being, now may be the time to take a little revenge.

Flavonoids occur widely in fruits and vegetables and their principal function appears to be to protect these plants from disease and the damage which may be caused to them by extremes of light or heat. It has long been suspected, however, that the well established health protecting and curative properties of the many plants commonly used in folk remedies for humans may also be due to flavonoids. And there is now abundant evidence to support the idea that certain flavonoids, particularly those of the polyphenol type, possess potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

Two of the biggest premature killers in the affluent Western world, as well as major causes of disability and early loss of independence, are stroke and heart disease. Both frequently follow on the development of the cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, otherwise known as hardening of the arteries, and it is known that the oxidation of low density lipids (LDL), the blood fats known as "bad cholesterol", is one of the major causes of this condition. The prevention of LDL oxidation is one of the key functions of vitamin E, the body's most important fat-soluble anti-oxidant, but anti-oxidant flavonoids are also known to play a role.

Consistent research findings confirming this benefit of flavonoid anti-oxidants have led successive governments and health agencies to urge the public to consume at least five daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the evidence indeed suggests that such high flavonoid diets are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and perhaps even some cancers.

But it's not just the flavonoids in fruits and vegetables that may have these effects. Much attention, for example, has recently been paid to the so-called "French Paradox", whereby France boasts a surprisingly low rate of heart disease and related conditions, given the preponderance of saturated animal fat in its national diet. There has been much speculation that the low rate of this disease, by the standards of advanced Western nations, may be linked with relatively high consumption of red wine, and analysis of the anti-oxidants in this drink, also found in red grape juice, suggests that the theory may have some substance.

And at least one major study has suggested that the incidence of stroke is substantially reduced in older people, otherwise a very high risk group for this illness, who regularly drink substantial quantities of tea, which is also rich in anti-oxidant polyphenols, but whose diet tends to be low in fresh fruits and vegetables.

As well as red wine and tea, there is now also evidence that anti-oxidant flavonoids may be found in beer and even chocolate. But in fact this is not as surprising as it may at first appear. The coca beans which are the primary ingredient of chocolate are a good source of polyphenols, and were known to ancient civilisations for their medicinal properties. Broadly speaking, the darker the chocolate the richer it will be in the particular flavonoids derived from the beans, which are powerful anti-oxidant agents not commonly found elsewhere.

The latest research seems to offer good evidence that the flavonoids particular to dark chocolate (procyanidins) may have a useful role in helping to prevent the oxidation of the LDL, "bad cholesterol", which is, as noted above, a key precursor of serious cardiovascular disease. Procyanidins also appear to work closely with vitamin E, the body's most important fat-soluble anti-oxidant, sparing the vitamin to work more effectively, and may also help to prevent excessive clotting or "stickiness" of the blood. Procyanidins are readily absorbed by the body following the consumption of dark chocolate and appear to have a significant overall anti-oxidant effect in the cardiovascular system.

But of course it's not all good news. You'll be only too well aware of the health reasons why it would be unwise to rely on tea, red wine, beer or chocolate as your principal sources of dietary anti-oxidant flavonoids. De-caffeinated teas are available, however, and dark chocolate is relatively low in sugar and fat; whilst all the evidence suggests that moderate consumption of alcohol may protect against a variety of conditions, including heart disease. Red wine, in particular, is rich in the anti-oxidant flavonoids which appear to offer significantly enhanced protection.

As always, the key is balance; and in the context of an otherwise healthy diet, particularly one rich in fruit and vegetables, there is no reason why these highly enjoyable luxury foods and beverages should not make an important contribution to your overall level of anti-oxidant intake.
About the Author
Steve Smith is a freelance copywriter specialising in direct marketing and with a particular interest in health products.
Find out more at
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