When it comes to reducing your cancer risk, prevention practices, such as exercise and eating well, play a vital role. Flavonoids, a group of phytonutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, are believed to be a potential factor in cancer prevention.
While many of us may not quite understand what flavonoids are, the good news is we’re probably already incorporating them into our diets. Flavonoids give fresh produce their bright colours — meaning, if you’re already “eating the rainbow” by seeking out varied hues of fruit and vegetables, you’re probably doing a good job of getting those flavonoids into your system. They can also be found in grains, barks, roots, stems, flowers, tea and wine.
What exactly is a flavonoid?
Simply, a flavonoid is a natural plant chemical present in most fruits and vegetables. There are different subgroups of flavonoids that have varying antioxidant effects: the phytonutrients found in citrus fruit have different properties, for example, than those in brassica vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage. This is why “eating the rainbow” is essential — different colours and families of fruit and vegetables will provide different flavonoids, so eating a little bit of everything can create a more well-rounded nutritional profile.
“Plants are full of natural chemicals that they use to defend themselves, including flavonoids,” says Kristyn Hall, a consulting dietitian and certified health and wellness coach with Energize Nutrition in Calgary. “So, when we eat that plant, we also ingest those superpowers from that plant.”
Maximizing flavonoids in your diet
While Hall recommends sticking to a plant-forward diet full of many different colourful fruits and vegetables, rather than specifically seeking out flavonoids, she does note some plants are richer in flavonoids than others.
A bright colour isn’t necessarily an indicator of flavonoid richness — white vegetables like onions and garlic are good sources of flavonoids, as are more colourful foods like blueberries, oranges, parsley, and apples.
Hall does not recommend taking flavonoid supplements and says that you should be able to get what you need through a plant-forward diet.
Add some colour to your meals by throwing blueberries into your smoothie or granola, tossing a handful of pomegranate seeds onto a green salad, or adding purple cabbage to a coleslaw.
“The best thing to do is to ensure that you’re getting enough plant-based foods at all of your meals,” Hall says. “If you are eating too many processed foods that are high in added sugar, salt and fat and not enough vegetables, you probably are missing your flavonoids.”
Drinking tea is another excellent way to get flavonoids. Black and green tea, in particular, are powerful antioxidants high in flavonoids.
As for cooking, a variety of studies show that flavonoids can be lost during the cooking process, though dry cooking (frying, roasting, grilling) can better retain flavonoids than boiling or steaming, where phytonutrients can transfer into the cooking water.
Flavonoids and cancer prevention
Alberta Health Service’s Healthier Together website reports that 45 per cent of cancers are linked to habits that individuals can change, with healthy eating being a key factor. Canada’s Food Guide doesn’t single out flavonoids specifically, but it does recommend ensuring that half of our plates are filled with fruits and vegetables, which naturally contain flavonoids.
“Regular consumption of flavonoids is associated with a reduction of many chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases,” Hall says. “But there is a lot that we don’t know. We don’t know when it’s most important to have exposure to flavonoids or how they interact with other components in your food. This is why it’s important to eat whole foods and make sure that there are plenty of plant-based foods on our plates throughout the day, every day.”
4 Ways to Drink Your Flavonoids
Not only can you relax with a nice cuppa, but black and green tea can also be a good source of dietary flavonoids. Alberta is home to many tea importers and tea blenders, but there are also several growers in Alberta producing their own teas. Since neither black nor green tea grows well in Alberta, most local tea producers specialize in herbal teas, sometimes blending their local herbal crops with imported black or green teas.
Founded by Fanta Camara, this Edmonton-based company sells a variety of teas, but its specialty is a spicy chai blend, made with locally grown herbs from Chickadee Farm Organic Herbs and ethically sourced black tea.
Rhodiola rosea, or golden root, is a locally grown plant known to contain flavonoids. AARGO not only supports rhodiola rosea growers, but also sells a tea blend made from the plant’s root via its website.
In addition to supplying providers like Vitaliteas with herbs, Chickadee also makes its own line of herbal teas made with herbs grown on the farm in Flatbush, Alta. The teas are available at many health food stores throughout the province.
This Cochrane-based business is run by an herbalist who offers healing consultations, as well as a line of antioxidants.
Citrus Spicy Chai Vinaigrette
Makes a great marinade for chicken or fish. Recipe developed for Vitaliteas by Chef Najah Shtay of Rio Vida Gluten-Free Bakery, Edmonton.
- 1 tsp Spicy Chai Mix with Organic Black Tea
- 1 fresh orange, lime or lemon, squeezed (optional)
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp tamari sauce
- 4 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 clove, mashed
- 2 tsp finely chopped onion or shallots
- sea salt and pepper, to taste
Mix ingredients together and enjoy over salad. Keep refrigerated and use within seven to 10 days. Serves 6-8.