It’s no surprise that fruits and veggies are seriously good for you. Many of their benefits can be attributed to the diverse micronutrients they contain, which go way beyond letter vitamins alone. For instance, plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants—of which there are many—including a specific subset called flavonols.

Per updated findings from a prospective cohort study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) program, which collected data from nearly 12,000 adults representing the U.S. population, a higher intake of flavonols was associated with:

  • A 36 percent decrease in all-cause mortality
  • A 55 percent decrease in cancer-specific mortality
  • A 33 percent decrease in cardiovascular-specific mortality

Plus, when looking at specific flavonols, some of these measures (as well as those for Alzheimer’s disease mortality risk) fared even better.

“They’re unique based on their chemical structure that helps to scavenge free radicals and cross the blood-brain barrier, leading to neuroprotective and heart health benefits.”
—Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, cardiovascular dietitian

Ahead, see what experts have to say about the link between flavonols and longevity—including how to include them into your diet ASAP to reap its (quite literal) life-giving benefits.

First, what are flavonols?

Flavonols are a subclass of flavonoids (which also include isoflavones, flavanones, flavonoid glycosides, flavonolignans, flavones, and anthocyanins). As a whole, flavonoids are phytochemical compounds found in many plants and plant-based foods. Flavonols are the most ubiquitous of the bunch and are thought to be the most active. “They’re unique based on their chemical structure that helps to scavenge free radicals and cross the blood-brain barrier, leading to neuroprotective and heart health benefits,” says Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, cardiovascular dietitian at Entirely Nourished.

To get even more niche, flavonols include the likes of:

  • Quercetin
  • Kaempferol
  • Myricetin
  • Isorhamnetin

“These bioactives are non-essential nutrients that scientific research is increasingly showing may be important to living and aging well,” Routhenstein continues.

Health benefits of eating foods with flavonols

The benefits of flavonols are wide-ranging and are linked to perks that can protect your health in many ways both now and over time. According to Routhenstein, these bioactives help to:

  • Improve blood flow
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Combat age-related memory decline and the effects of brain aging

“Flavonols may help reduce plaque burden in the arteries, which is associated with progression of heart disease,” Routhenstein adds. In addition, she says that they’ve been shown to boost the production of nitric oxide. “Nitric oxide is important to your circulatory system because it promotes the opening of arteries, supports the health of blood vessels, and even supports the functioning of brain cells,” she explains.

Kaustubh Dabhadkar, MD, MPH, MBA, FACC, a preventive cardiologist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, hones in on quercetin and kaempferol in particular as they’re more bioavailable than many other flavonoids when consumed from food sources. “Quercetin and kaempferol are potent antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), reducing oxidative stress and inflammation—key contributors to cardiovascular disease,” he explains. “Multiple studies have demonstrated that quercetin in particular can help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels, reducing risk factors for heart disease.”

But that’s not to say that other flavonols aren’t without merit. For instance, in the most recent findings from the NHANES study, myricetin (found in tea, berries, and nuts) was associated with a whopping 66 percent decline in Alzheimer’s disease mortality risk.

Foods with flavonols: The best dietary sources

Ready to boost your diet with flavonols aplenty? Dr. Dabhadkar shares options that are rich in quercetin and kaempferol in particular:

  • Onions
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Blueberries
  • Apples
  • Green tea
  • Black tea

Per the US Cardiology Review, additional flavonol-rich foods include:

  • Cocoa (and chocolate)
  • Red wine
  • Cereals
  • Beans
  • Spices
  • Nuts

The takeaway on high-flavonol foods

Flavonols are among the mightiest phytonutrients in the plant world that promote longevity on several fronts. So long as you include a variety of plant-based fare in your daily diet, you won’t have to work too hard to ensure you’re reaping the rewards of these powerhouses. Of course, loading up on flavonols is only one small piece of the puzzle for good health. Dr. Dabhadkar suggests complementing your heart-healthy, healthspan-promoting practices by adhering to a diverse, balanced diet; limiting your intake of processed foods and those high in sodium and saturated food; keeping your stress under control with your self-care hobbies of choice; and avoiding smoking.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Bernard R Chaitman, Harold H Schmitz, Carl L Keen, Cocoa Flavanols and Cardiovascular Health, US Cardiology 2005;2(1):23–6

  2. Jan R, Khan M, Asaf S, Lubna, Asif S, Kim K-M. Bioactivity and Therapeutic Potential of Kaempferol and Quercetin: New Insights for Plant and Human Health. Plants. 2022; 11(19):2623.

  3. Zong, Zhiqiang et al. “Association between dietary flavonol intake and mortality risk in the U.S. adults from NHANES database.” Scientific reports vol. 14,1 4572. 25 Feb. 2024, doi:10.1038/s41598-024-55145-y

  4. Dabeek, Wijdan M, and Melissa Ventura Marra. “Dietary Quercetin and Kaempferol: Bioavailability and Potential Cardiovascular-Related Bioactivity in Humans.” Nutrients vol. 11,10 2288. 25 Sep. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11102288

  5. Ullah, Asad et al. “Important Flavonoids and Their Role as a Therapeutic Agent.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 25,22 5243. 11 Nov. 2020, doi:10.3390/molecules25225243

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