Dietary compounds known as flavones and anthocyanins, found in many herbs and vegetables, can help to regulate blood sugar and lower inflammation. Recent research from the University of East Anglia and King’s College London looked at nearly 2000 women who were twins, and compared their dietary histories with their blood levels of glucose, insulin and inflammatory markers. The research focused on flavones, found in herbs and vegetables such as parsley, thyme and celery, and anthocyanins, found in berries, red and purple grapes, wine, and other red or blue-colored fruits and vegetables.
Findings were that those who ate the most foods with flavones and anthocyanins had lower insulin resistance. This means that their cells were able to respond to insulin and take in blood glucose in a normal way. People with high insulin resistance have elevated levels of insulin in their blood, and may experience weight gain, increased blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (good cholesterol), and other health problems. Diabetes is a frequent result.
The study also found that those who ate the most anthocyanins were least likely to suffer from chronic inflammation. Inflammation – as seen by redness, swelling, and pain, is a normal and necessary part of the body’s reaction to injury. As healing occurs, the inflammatory response goes away. However, chronic inflammation is a risk factor for many illnesses and should be identified and reduced. It can be caused by chronic infections, gum disease, and obesity, especially abdominal obesity. The usual antidote has been to eat less, follow a Mediterranean type of diet, and move more. This new study indicates which foods may be especially helpful. Anthocyanins are concentrated in foods that are red, purple or blue, but are found in most plants, in leaves, stems, roots, flowers and fruits. The highest amounts are found in blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, black currants, cherries, eggplant peels, black rice, dark colored grapes, red cabbage, red-fleshed peaches, beets, and blood oranges.
The researchers also cited dark chocolate and red wine as compounds with anthocyanins, and cautioned that moderation is the key, because of the potential for too much sugar (chocolate) and addiction/inebriation (wine). Here’s a no sugar chocolate recipe: mash a ripe banana, add unsweetened cocoa powder and some peanut butter to taste. Stir it up with a fork, and share it with a pal for dessert. Put it on a whole grain cracker for crunch, or add chopped nuts.
This is an exciting study because it is one of the first large-scale human studies to look at how flavones and anthocyanins can reduce chronic inflammation and also affect insulin resistance, blood glucose regulation and the risk of diabetes. A study of twins is especially valuable, as it eliminates or modifies the role of genetics.
The take home message of this article is – go for dark colors in your food choices. Also go for the flavones in celery, parsley, thyme and other herbs. You can find these foods year-round at natural food stores and many markets. Try growing purple potatoes – I can’t stop them in my garden. Thyme and parsley are also easy to grow in our climate.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog