Research based on more than 3,000 women shows those who had the most flavonoids in their diets had denser and stronger bones.
It is the first time that these compounds — pigments which give fruits and vegetables their colouring — have been linked to bone health.
"We found a significant association between total flavonoid intake and bone density in the hip and the lumbar spine. The women who had the most in their diet had the denser bones," says Dr Antonia Hardcastle, who led the study at Aberdeen University.
It is estimated that around half of women and one in five men in the UK above 50 will have a fracture associated with osteoporosis at some time.
Poor nutrition plays a role in the development of the disease. Studies on animals have also shown that onions and other vegetables can give some protection against bone loss. That research has suggested the protective effects of fruits and vegetables come from the nutrients they contain. Until now the role of flavonoids — found in fruits, vegetables, tea, nuts and seeds — have not been investigated for their role in bone health in humans.
In the study, researchers quizzed the women about their diet and calculated the flavonoid content. They had their bone density measured at the hip and the lower spine.
Results show that tea was the main source of flavonoids to the diet, providing 57 per cent. On average, the women drank just over half a litre of tea a day. Fresh fruits provided an additional 18 per cent, with the women eating an average of 214 grams a day. Fruit juice gave another 12 per cent, from an average consumption of 105 grams a day. Vegetables provided around five per cent from an average intake of 192 grams a day.
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