Over 45% of American adults struggle with high blood pressure and hypertension. A new study found that eating more flavanol-rich foods like, tea, berries and apples can help.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
October 22, 2020
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Credit: Getty Images/twomeows

A healthy heart is so important. Over 108 million Americans (nearly 45%) struggle with hypertension and high blood pressure, which can lead to expensive medications and complications if left uncontrolled. Luckily, a nutritious diet can be hugely helpful in protecting your heart and getting your blood pressure in check.

Several diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, have been proven to boost heart health, but other foods and compounds may help too. A new study, published this week, found that nutrients called flavanols may also reduce your risk. We dove into the research to learn more.

New flavanol research

A study recently published in Scientific Reports looked at over 25,000 people in the UK to see the effect of nutrients called flavanols on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Flavanols are bioactive components of food that belong to the group of antioxidants called polyphenols. These antioxidants help protect our cells from wear and tear damage, and can help prevent chronic disease. Instead of relying on people's memory of what they ate, like many nutrition studies do, researchers tested nutritional biomarkers in the participants' blood.

"In contrast to self-reported dietary data, nutritional biomarkers can address the huge variability in food composition. We can therefore confidently attribute the associations we observed to flavanol intake," said lead study author Professor Gunter Kuhnle, a nutritionist at the University of Reading, in a press release.

There was a 2-4 mmgHg difference in blood pressure between those with the highest flavanol intake in their diets and those with the lowest flavanol intake. This means that those with the highest flavanol intakes had the lowest blood pressures. And while it may not sound like much, the reduction in blood pressure is comparable to the effect that the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet have on blood pressure. Their findings were even more pronounced in people who had hypertension.

What It Means

Their findings suggest that increasing your flavanol intake could reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and help lower high blood pressure. So where do we find flavanols? There are several foods high in flavanols and other antioxidants. Foods and drinks like tea, apples and berries are common foods that are high in flavanols. Other foods like nuts and onions have been found to contain high amounts of flavanols. And for chocolate lovers, cocoa is also a high-flavanol food. So yes, you can eat a little chocolate and drink a glass of wine in the name of heart health.

Bottom Line

Eating a nutritious and varied diet is the best way to reduce your risk of any chronic illness and improve your heart health. There are several ways to tailor a healthy eating pattern to lower your blood pressure, including following the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet. However, this study suggests that focusing on flavanols may be another equally effective way to combat hypertension and high blood pressure. Choosing foods like berries, nuts and tea (with the occasional chocolate and wine, of course) will set you up for heart-healthy success.