Higher dietary flavonoid intakes are associated with lower objectively measured body composition in women: evidence from discordant monozygotic twins

Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Mar;105(3):626-634. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.144394. Epub 2017 Jan 18.


Background: Although dietary flavonoid intake has been associated with less weight gain, there are limited data on its impact on fat mass, and to our knowledge, the contribution of genetic factors to this relation has not previously been assessed.Objective: We examined the associations between flavonoid intakes and fat mass.Design: In a study of 2734 healthy, female twins aged 18-83 y from the TwinsUK registry, intakes of total flavonoids and 7 subclasses (flavanones, anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavonols, flavones, polymers, and proanthocyanidins) were calculated with the use of food-frequency questionnaires. Measures of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry-derived fat mass included the limb-to-trunk fat mass ratio (FMR), fat mass index, and central fat mass index.Results: In cross-sectional multivariable analyses, higher intake of anthocyanins, flavonols, and proanthocyanidins were associated with a lower FMR with mean ± SE differences between extreme quintiles of -0.03 ± 0.02 (P-trend = 0.02), -0.03 ± 0.02 (P-trend = 0.03), and -0.05 ± 0.02 (P-trend < 0.01), respectively. These associations were not markedly changed after further adjustment for fiber and total fruit and vegetable intakes. In monozygotic, intake-discordant twin pairs, twins with higher intakes of flavan-3-ols (n = 154, P = 0.03), flavonols (n = 173, P = 0.03), and proanthocyanidins (n = 172, P < 0.01) had a significantly lower FMR than that of their co-twins with within-pair differences of 3-4%. Furthermore, in confirmatory food-based analyses, twins with higher intakes of flavonol-rich foods (onions, tea, and pears; P = 0.01) and proanthocyanidin-rich foods (apples and cocoa drinks; P = 0.04) and, in younger participants (aged <50 y) only, of anthocyanin-rich foods (berries, pears, grapes, and wine; P = 0.01) had a 3-9% lower FMR than that of their co-twins.Conclusions: These data suggest that higher habitual intake of a number of flavonoids, including anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavonols, and proanthocyanidins, are associated with lower fat mass independent of shared genetic and common environmental factors. Intervention trials are needed to further examine the effect of flavonoid-rich foods on body composition.

Keywords: body composition; diet; fat distribution; flavonoids; twins.

Publication types

  • Twin Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Adiposity / drug effects
  • Age Factors
  • Anthocyanins / administration & dosage
  • Body Composition / drug effects*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Flavonoids / administration & dosage
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Flavonols / administration & dosage
  • Fruit / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Onions / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / administration & dosage
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plants, Edible / chemistry*
  • Proanthocyanidins / administration & dosage
  • Tea / chemistry
  • Twins, Monozygotic*


  • Anthocyanins
  • Flavonoids
  • Flavonols
  • Plant Extracts
  • Proanthocyanidins
  • Tea