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Apples are one of the foods rich in a compound known as flavonol. maroot sudchinda/Getty Images
  • Experts say nutrition is important to overall health, especially in older age.
  • Researchers report that foods rich in a compound known as flavonols can lower the chances of frailty.
  • Foods that contain a high amount of flavonols include apples, blackberries, peaches, tomatoes, and dark chocolate.

Eating plant-based foods that contain a dietary compound known as flavonols may reduce the risk of frailty.

In a study published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers reported that a higher intake of flavonols was associated with lower odds of developing frailty.

“There may be some validity to the old saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor (or frailty) away,” the authors said in a press statement.

“Our findings suggest that for every 10 mg higher intake of flavonols per day, the odds of frailty were reduced by 20 percent. Individuals can easily consume 10 mg of flavonols intake per day since one medium sized apple has about 10 mg of flavonols,” they added.

Flavonols are a naturally occurring compound found in fruits and vegetables.

Sources of flavonols include berries, onions, peaches, tomatoes and kale. Flavonols can also be found in dark chocolate, tea and red wine.

“Flavonols belong to the polyphenol family, a broad group of compounds found in plants that have health benefits that include antioxidant effects and also improve peripheral endothelia (lining of the arteries) function,” Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, LD, the president-elect of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who wasn’t involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

The researchers reported that food such as blackberries and apples that contain a type of flavonoid known as quercetin may be particularly important in preventing frailty.

“Although there was no significant association between total flavonoid intake and frailty, higher flavonols intake (one of the subclasses of flavonoids) was associated with lower odds of developing frailty. Specifically, higher quercetin intake was the flavonoid that had the strongest association with frailty prevention. This data suggests that there may be particular subclasses of flavonoids that have the most potential as a dietary strategy for frailty prevention,” the researchers said.

Frailty is a geriatric syndrome that can lead to a greater risk of hospitalization, disability, falls, fractures, and mortality.

Prevalence of frailty increases with age, with approximately 10% of people over the age of 65 impacted.

The Fried frailty phenotype is a tool used to assess a person’s frailty through five criteria that include weight loss that is unintentional, poor handgrip strength or weakness, self-reported exhaustion, low physical activity, and a slow walking speed.

While numerous factors can contribute to frailty, nutrition is believed to play an important role.

“Diet can have a significant impact on frailty. Protein is especially important to maintain strength and prevent sarcopenia (muscle loss) that can cause frailty. Vitamin D and calcium are important to keep bones strong and prevent fractures,” Wright said.

Eating enough calories and ensuring adequate nutrient intake is also important.

“What we eat, its nutrient composition, whether it leads to more acidity in the blood or alkalinity can make a big difference in frailty. If we are not eating enough or getting enough nutrients or antioxidants/anti-inflammatory foods, we will more likely be frail,” Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, RD, a senior clinical dietitian at the UCLA Medical Center and an assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in Los Angeles, told Medical News Today.

“If you can only afford/store frozen vegetables and fruits, by all means, go with frozen. They are often less expensive, store very well, and maintain all their health benefits, and sometimes even more so,” she added. “If you can only afford canned fruits and vegetables, that will still be better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. Aim to get more plant-foods into your diet as best you can. Limit your intake of packaged foods… as that will give you more calories than you need but not the nutrients you need.”

“Look into programs such as Meals on Wheels or other public services your city/county might have. There may be opportunities to obtain fresh produce at a discounted price,” Hunnes advised.

Older adults may need less calories than younger people, but they may also have increased nutrient requirements.

Experts say drinking enough fluids and eating a diet with fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains is important for promoting health and reducing risk of disease. Reducing intake of added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium is also important.

While it is never too late to make changes that can contribute to healthy aging, the experts who spoke with Medical News Today said making healthy changes to diet should be considered well before entering older age.

“We should all be looking at nutrition over the life course and think about ways to keep ourselves healthy long term. Nutrition is a long-term thing,” Hunnes said. “We don’t just become healthy the moment we change our diet, it can take weeks, months, or years to see benefit or detriment. So, I think we should be thinking about healthy eating for as much of our lives as possible.”