When you think about plants, you may tend to think of foliages, chlorophyll or photosynthesis, but what about polyphenols? And, did you know what they can do for your health?
Polyphenols are plant chemicals that play an essential role in maintaining our health and wellness. They play a part in preventing and reducing the progression of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurogenerative diseases.
Knowing about what polyphenols are, which foods contain them and what they can do for your health can help improve your overall well-being while encouraging you to implement more nutrient-rich foods into your diet.
What Are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are phytochemicals, which are compounds found in plants and natural plant food sources. There are over 8,000 identified polyphenols found in foods like chocolate, fruit, tea, wine, vegetables and certain oils. Polyphenols are classified as plant antioxidants that help protect the cells within your body from free radical damage.
Antioxidants are essential for your overall health. If your body doesn’t get enough protection, free radicals can get out of control, preventing our cells from functioning properly. As an end result, this can lead to tissue degradation and increase your risk of diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
Polyphenols can be broken down into four categories. Foods contain mixtures of these different polyphenols, with higher levels found on the outside layers of plants than the inner parts.
The four categories consist of the following:
- Flavonoids: Contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, green tea and red wine.
- Phenolic acids: Hydroxycinnamic and hydroxybenzoic acids that are found in coffee, blueberries, plums, apples, cherries and tea.
- Stilbenes: Resveratrol is the most well-known stilbenes that are found in red wine and peanuts.
- Lignans: Found in seeds like legumes, flax, grains, algae, fruits and certain vegetables.
All of these types of polyphenols propose a variety of benefits that can improve your health from the inside out.
Benefits of Polyphenols
There are many health benefits associated with polyphenols, and more particularly the antioxidants in them. Polyphenols have the ability to impact your genes and influence your gut bacteria as well.
- Type 2 diabetes: Research has proven that polyphenols have the ability to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes because polyphenols boost insulin sensitivity while slowing down the rate the body absorbs and digests sugar.
- Inflammation: The class of lignans in polyphenols has been associated with lowering the levels of inflammation within the body.
- Obesity: The flavonoids found in polyphenols have been proven to lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.
- Heart disease: The polyphenols in cocoa has been found to significantly reduce the level of LDL or bad cholesterol while raising HDL or good cholesterol levels.
Now that you know how consuming foods high in polyphenols can benefit your health, find out how you can implement them into your diet below.
Foods High in Polyphenols
Plant-based foods, vegetables and fruits are usually high in polyphenols, but it all depends on factors like how the food is grown, farmed, transported, cooked and prepared.
Take a look at the most common sources of dietary polyphenols provided by Medical News Today.
In general, polyphenols appear extremely effective in offering promising benefits that can improve your overall health. However, more research needs to be conducted before recommending them in supplemental form. For now, to reap the benefits of these plant chemicals, the best way to do so is in their natural form found in plant foods. The Mediterranean diet is one diet that includes a lot of the foods rich in polyphenols. You can learn more about this diet by clicking here.
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Vernarelli, J. A., & Lambert, J. D. (2017). Flavonoid intake is inversely associated with obesity and C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, in US adults. Nutrition & Diabetes, 7(5). doi:10.1038/nutd.2017.22
Shrime, M. G., Bauer, S. R., Mcdonald, A. C., Chowdhury, N. H., Coltart, C. E., & Ding, E. L. (2011). Flavonoid-Rich Cocoa Consumption Affects Multiple Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Meta-Analysis of Short-Term Studies. The Journal of Nutrition, 141(11), 1982-1988. doi:10.3945/jn.111.145482
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Polyphenols: What They Are, and Why You Need Them. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/12/14/polyphenols-benefits.aspx