We’ve been told for years that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but now the true meaning of this old wives’ tale is becoming clear.
According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, eating fruit and vegetables that contain high levels of flavonoids, such as apples, pears, and berries, may be associated with less weight gain.
Dietary flavonoids are natural compounds found in fruits and vegetables. These have been linked to weight loss, but most studies have looked at a particular flavonoid found in green tea, and have mostly been limited to small samples.
So a team of researchers examined the association between the dietary intake of seven flavonoid subclasses and weight change in a large study of 124,086 men and women based across the US over 24 years.
They tracked participants who were part of three prospective cohort studies: the Health Professionals Follow Up Study, Nurses’ Health Study, and Nurses’ Health Study II.
Participants self-reported their weight, lifestyle habits, and any recently diagnosed diseases via questionnaire every two years, between 1986 and 2011. In addition, they self reported their diet every four years.
Findings revealed that increased consumption of flavonoid subclasses was associated with less weight gain.
The greatest association was found for anthocyanins, flavonoid polymers, and flavonols: each greater standard deviation of daily intake was associated with 0.16 to 0.23 lbs (equivalent to 0.07- 0.10 kg) less weight gained over four year intervals.
Blueberries and strawberries were the main source of anthocyanins, and flavan-3-ols and their polymers were mainly derived from tea and apples. Orange juice and oranges were the main sources of flavanone and flavones, and tea and onions were the main sources of flavonols.
The study adjusted for a range of dietary and lifestyle factors that may have influenced the results, such as smoking status and physical activity. Results were consistent across men and women, and different ages.
This is the first study to examine the associations between consumption of seven flavonoid subclasses and weight gain in a large sample size.
It is an observational study so no definite conclusions can be made, and several limitations exist due to the design of the study. Nevertheless, the authors say that the findings “may help to refine previous dietary recommendations for the prevention of obesity and its potential consequences.”
In addition, they say that losing or preventing even small amounts of weight can reduce risk of diabetes, cancer, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. They add that the results can provide guidance on which fruits and vegetables to choose for preventing weight gain.
Most people consume less than one cup of fruit per day, and less than two cups of vegetables daily. The authors suggest that this should be increased to two cups of fruits, and two and a half cups of vegetables, and that people may be able to maximise the health benefits by choosing those with high levels of flavonoids, such as apples, pears, and berries.