Consuming foods and drinks that are rich in flavanols – such as apples, berries, nuts and tea – could lead to lower blood pressure, according to scientists.


Flavanols are a type of plant nutrient that have been shown to help support blood circulation and vessel health. But the scientists say that while previous studies have relied on self-reported data to draw conclusions, their research is the “first epidemiological study of this scale to objectively investigate the association between a specific bioactive compound and health”.

Read more about eating for good health:

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is based on analysing the diet of more than 25,000 people in Norfolk.

“What this study gives us is an objective and significant finding about the association between flavanols – found in tea and some fruits – and blood pressure,” said Professor Gunter Kuhnle, a nutritionist at the University of Reading who led the research.

“This research confirms the results from previous dietary intervention studies and shows that the same results can be achieved with a habitual diet rich in flavanols.

“In the British diet, the main sources are tea, cocoa, apples and berries.”

Nutrient found in apples, berries and nuts could lower blood pressure © Getty Images
Flavanols are found in pome fruits, like apples, as well as in berries, tea, cocoa and nuts © Getty Images

An international team of researchers, including experts from the University of Reading and Cambridge University, looked at 25,618 participants from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) Norfolk study, who have been providing information about their diet, lifestyle and health for more than two decades.

The team measured the participants’ flavanol intake using nutritional biomarkers. These are biological indicators of dietary intake and metabolism which are present in the blood.

“Using nutritional biomarkers to estimate intake of bioactive food compounds has long been seen as the gold standard for research, as it allows intake to be measured objectively,” said Prof Kuhnle.

“The development, validation and application of the biomarker was only possible because of the long-term commitment of all collaborators.”

Based on their findings, the researchers said if the general public increased its flavanol intake, there could be an overall reduction in cardiovascular disease incidence.

Read more about blood pressure:

Dr Ian Johnson, nutrition researcher and Emeritus Fellow at the Quadram Institute in Norwich, described the findings as “an important, high-quality investigation of some physiological effects of dietary flavonoids”.

“The authors have been able to show that systolic blood pressure was lower in participants consuming the highest quantities of flavonoids, compared to those consuming the lowest,” said Dr Johnson. “This is a potentially important observation because it is consistent with the growing evidence from randomised controlled human intervention trials showing that relatively high doses of certain flavonoids can exert a blood-pressure lowering effect.”

But Dr Johnson, who was not involved in the research, added that despite all its strengths, the observational study does not show that a high flavonoid intake causes blood pressure to drop – only that there is a link between the two.


“The authors have done their best to control for other factors that might account for their results, but they are right to state that large-scale intervention trials will be required to test the hypothesis that the observed differences in blood pressure can be explained by differences in flavonoid intake.”

More like this

Reader Q&A: Should I bother taking vitamin pills?

Asked by: Anonymous

According to reputable medical sources, a varied, healthy diet provides all the vitamins that a normal adult needs. Foods are also better than supplements because a healthy balanced diet contains other nutrients, such as fibre.

The UK Department of Health recommends, however, that children aged between six months and four years can benefit (under medical guidance) from vitamin A, C and D supplements, while pregnant women can benefit from folic acid supplements.

Read more:


Amy ArthurEditorial Assistant, BBC Science Focus

Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.