Investigators from Kings College London and the University of East Anglia, both in the UK, say their research shows that a high intake of these dietary compounds is linked to reduced insulin resistance and improved glucose regulation.
Type 2 diabetes - the most common form of diabetes - is caused by insulin resistance. This means the body is unable to use insulin properly, which can lead to abnormal blood glucose levels.
To reach their findings, the research team analyzed 1,997 female volunteers aged between 18 and 76 years from TwinsUK - the largest UK twin registry used for research into genetics, the environment and common diseases.
All women completed a food questionnaire. This estimated their total dietary flavonoid intake and their intake from six flavonoid subclasses - anthocyanins, flavanones, flavan-3-ols, polymeric flavonoids, flavonols, and flavones.
The study revealed that women who consumed high levels of anthocyanins and flavones - compounds found in foods such as berries, herbs, red grapes, chocolate and wine - demonstrated lower insulin resistance.
Women who consumed the highest levels of flavones also had improved levels of a protein called adiponectin - a regulator of glucose levels, among other metabolic mechanisms.
Furthermore, the investigators discovered that volunteers who consumed the most anthocyanins were the least likely to have chronic inflammation - a condition linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer.
However, the researchers note that they do not yet know the levels at which these compounds may protect against type 2 diabetes.
Commenting on the findings, Aedin Cassidy, of the University of East Anglia and lead researcher of the study, told Medical News Today:
"We showed that the anthocyanins - compounds responsible for the red/blue color of berries and other fruits and vegetables - can improve the way we handle glucose and insulin and reduce inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
These data suggest we should be eating more of these flavonoid-rich foods in our diet."
When it comes to eating chocolate, Cassidy said it is all about eating small amounts of the right chocolate in order to see health benefits.
She noted that in clinical trials, consuming chocolate made especially for the trials, which contained 50 mg of flavonoids, "reduced blood pressure, improved blood flow and helped keep arteries healthy and flexible."Flavonoids found in certain foods, including chocolate, wine and berries, may protect against type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
"In general, dark chocolate contains more of the powerful bioactive compounds, and addition of a small amount of chocolate to an otherwise healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables could be important for prevention efforts to reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes," Cassidy added.
Prof. Tim Spector, of King's College London and co-author of the study, notes that this is an "exciting finding that shows that some components of foods that we consider unhealthy like chocolate or wine may contain some beneficial substances."
Cassidy told Medical News Today that they have just started to recruit participants for a large trial to determine the effects of berries on the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
If you live in the UK, are aged between 50 and 75 years and are in good general health, you can apply to be a part of the trial by contacting the University of East Anglia.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that teenagers who consume high amounts of chocolate tend to be slimmer, while another study suggests that drinking a glass of wine each day may help stave off depression.
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