London, England—Eating more foods with high levels of flavonoids could reduce the risk of diabetes, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Researchers from King’s College London (based here) and University of East Anglia (UEA), Norwich, England, conducted a study on how flavonoids, including anthocyanins and flavones, found in foods like berries, tea and chocolate, affected blood glucose levels and inflammation. Lead by Aedin Cassidy, professor at UEA’s Norwich Medical School, the researchers collected information on total flavonoid intake from food questionnaires completed by 2,000 healthy women volunteers. Blood samples were taken to determine blood glucose levels, inflammation and insulin resistance, a trademark of type-2 diabetes.

The results showed that those who consumed higher levels of flavonoid-rich foods, such as herbs like thyme and parsley, berries and red wine, had lower insulin resistance, making them less likely to develop diabetes. In addition, those whose diets were especially rich in anthocyanins (like that found in berries and wine) were least likely to suffer from chronic inflammation, a condition associated with multiple health concerns such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Those who consumed the most flavone compounds (found in herbs and vegetables) had “improved levels of a protein (adiponectin) which helps regulate a number of metabolic processes including glucose levels,” said Cassidy. She added that the results of the study did not indicate exactly how much of the compounds are necessary to potentially reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes.

Research collaborator Tim Spector, who directed the study at King’s College London, said it is exciting to find that foods often labeled “unhealthy,” like chocolate and wine, may have beneficial properties. “If we can start to identify and separate these substances we can potentially improve healthy eating,” he explained. Spector added that we should proceed with caution until more randomized trials are conducted, especially in those developing early diabetes.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2014 (online 1/22/14)