Research & Education

Why Flavonoids Have an Important Place in Children’s Diet

Flavonoids are phytochemicals found in a variety of plant-based foods that have potential health-promoting properties, including supporting antioxidant status and immune function and promoting a healthy inflammatory response and gut microbiome diversity. Meta-analyses on studies with mostly adult populations have demonstrated an inverse association between dietary flavonoid intake and several chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality.

These phytochemicals are likely an important component in the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. Diet and lifestyle impact health throughout lifespan, but these have a vital role during childhood when key physiological and cognitive development occurs. Consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables during childhood supports overall health, including mental health. Including flavonoid-rich foods in a healthy diet may have additional health benefits for children.

One study assessed the acute consumption of a flavonoid-rich blueberry drink on mood in children and young adults. In the study, 50 children aged 7 to 10 consumed the blueberry drink or a placebo. After 2 hours, those who consumed the blueberries had an increase in positive affect and no effect on negative affect, which may help to improve mood and support mental health.* A low positive affect is associated with depression, whereas a high negative affect is associated with anxiety.

Another study looked at the cognitive impact of the daily consumption of wild blueberry for 4 weeks in children aged 7 to 10 years. The blueberry consumption led to an improvement in executive function with significantly higher accuracy on incongruent trials compared to the placebo. The researchers determined that the blueberry provided the most benefit to children under conditions of increased cognitive demand and situations requiring higher speed of processing and alertness. Another study found that acute consumption of a wild blueberry drink in children aged 7 to 10 led to significant improvement in cognitive function, including final immediate recall, delayed word recognition, and accuracy on cognitively demanding incongruent trials.

One systematic review on the impact of cocoa impact on cognitive function reviewed data from 11 interventional studies on children and young adults. The individual studies found that both acute and chronic cocoa intake improved several cognitive outcomes. Chronic intake of cocoa flavanols in young adults led to better cognitive performance and an increased level of neurotrophins.

Some children may not consume sufficient levels of flavonoids, especially as they age. One study reviewed trends of flavonoid intake in children aged 3 to 18 years by using data from the DOrtmund Nutritional and Anthropometric Longitudinally Designed Study (DONALD Study) from 1985 to 2016. The researchers used 3-day weighed food records and the USDA database to determine flavonoid consumption. There was a lower mean total flavonoid density in boys at 134 mg per 4,184 kJ compared to girls at 146 mg per 4,184 kJ. Boys experienced a decrease of total flavonoid density over time.

There are many difficulties parents may face when trying to implement a healthy diet for their child from socioeconomic issues to picky eaters. Some parents may find it helpful to add powdered forms of flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables to provide a way to increase overall flavonoid intake for health support.

By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS