Science & Medicine

Food for Thought … Nathalie Cook

Show me the color of your food

My husband, an engineer, pronounced as he looked at his dinner plate,  “There are five main food groups…” Wow, he’s been listening. And he goes on to say, “…green, red, orange, white and yellow.” Typical, I thought he has completely missed the point, or has he…

As it turns out, evolutionary biologists would say that our selection of food has been aided by our ability to see color, and overtime, humans have adapted to select foods that are most beneficial to our health – and as it turns out these are the most colorful.

Color is one of the qualities of food that get us excited about eating – ever thought of sitting down to a plate of grass – it’s not appetizing unless you are a horse!

The brightest and most colorful foods contain ‘flavonoids’.

Flavonoids, as they are found in plants, are part of the diets of animals and humans. There are more than 8,000 identified flavonoids. Again the evolutionary science is that flavonoids are responsible for the vibrant colors of flowers and distinct colors and flavors of fruit, vegetables and other plant foods.

They have come to exist in plants, through adaptation, as they play a part in protecting plants from parasites, disease and animals.  I doubt you will take much convincing of this when I mention that habaneros peppers are a really good example of a plant food that is rich in flavonoids.  Flavonoids help too, in pollination and propagation of plants by attracting insects and animals.

Flavonoids are antioxidants that help neutralize overly reactive oxygen containing molecules (free radicals), preventing them from damaging cells (For more information on antioxidants and oxidative cell damage, refer to Dr. Arch Mc’s, wonderful article on this topic in the July 2012 issue of MPN Forum Magazine).

Benefits to our health

Foods that are rich in flavonoids can benefit health. Studies are increasingly showing that they prevent cardiovascular disease and this is most likely explained by their ability to inhibit oxidative modification of cholesterol and to reduce platelet aggregation (clumping), thus reducing blood clotting risk.

No one has really studied the benefits of flavonoids for MPN sufferers.  No doubt having a good diet is one of those foundation stones to help us cope everyday and in the long run.  It follows logically that they would provide some benefit just as they do in the case of cardiovascular disease.

Recent studies are indicating that flavonoids stimulate enzyme activity to assist in fighting diseases and reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease, and other age-related degenerative diseases, such as arthritis and dementia.

Research on flavonoids

The Mediterranean diet seems to capture the imagination of researchers and provides evidence for the benefits of a diet that is rich in flavonoids.   (I too would be very interested in researching diets in the Greek islands in a relaxing setting enjoying an ornate drink on a balmy evening as zephyrs cool the heat of the sun as it rests upon the horizon!)

The rural Greek version of the Mediterranean diet provides an intriguing example of a diet characterized by a high consumption of vegetables, fruits and olive oil and a moderate consumption of red wine, all of which are rich sources of dietary flavonoids.

While there is no direct evidence that flavonoids are key to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, indirect evidence from patterns of disease in this population and an increasing understanding of the antioxidant functions of dietary flavonoids, provide some insight on the expected beneficial effect of a flavonoid rich diet on health and longer life expectancy.

Studies from the Netherlands show major sources of dietary flavonoids in that population were tea, onions, apples and red wine. The large contribution of flavonoids from these foods indicates they may provide greater nutritional benefits than previously recognized.

More research is required to further understand mechanisms of flavonoid absorption, metabolism and biochemical action and interaction with other nutrients; and to identify the mechanisms by which flavonoids work to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease and reduce blood clotting risk.

Advice for MPN patients

As flavonoids have always been part of our diet —  and are known to be non-toxic when consumed at usual levels of dietary intake —  it is wise for MPN patients to  enjoy a diet which includes a broad range of colorful, nutritious plant foods to maximize our intake of dietary of flavonoids, both for general health benefits and also to potentially reduce blood clotting risk. Additionally, by enjoying diets rich in plant foods we also ensure we have an adequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals and other dietary components, needed for good health, such as dietary fiber


Foods with the highest flavonoid concentrations are those with bright colors and strong flavors; such as blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, red beans, green lentils, red apples (especially the skins, so don’t peel them!), dark grapes, leafy green vegetables, red and yellow fruits and vegetables, some nuts, herbs and spices. Red wine and certain teas, including black and green tea are also rich sources of flavonoids.

Each day we should aim to eat at least two serves of fruit (1 serve = 1 medium apple, pear, orange, banana etc.) and five serves of vegetables (1 serve = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw vegetables). The vegetable component of your meal should comprise half your plate, while the protein (meat/chicken/fish/eggs/legumes) and the carbohydrate (potato/rice/pasta/bread) portions of your meal should each consist of one quarter of the area of your plate.

Crazy about flavonoids

So you see my husband, unwittingly, was not too far from the truth when he made his observation about his dinner plate – as this was the way the meal was served.  Unfortunately, he has taken the whole flavonoid thing way too seriously as I now find him eating way too much dark chocolate!

(More detailed information on flavonoids is contained in a review, by Nathalie Cook and Samir Samman in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, (1996) titled, “Flavonoids-chemistry, metabolism, cardioprotective effects and dietary sources

Take me back to the Contents

© Nathalie Cook and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nathalie Cook and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Comments on: "Food for Thought … Nathalie Cook" (2)

  1. Nathalie Cook said:

    Hi Arch, thank you for your kind comments. I always enjoy reading your columns too. They are entertaining, educational and also thought provoking…Best Nathalie

  2. Hi Nathalie, Your professional competence salted (in moderation) with amusing family anecdotes combined with your teaching ability makes for an educational as well as entertaining article. One to be reread as a lesson for the best impact. Thank you. Perhaps your husband’s plate of flavonoidal colors could be rearranged as the color spectrum of “ROY G. -White-” instead of “BIV”. :) A.

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