Top foods with polyphenols and why you should eat them

Polyphenols berries

Last Updated June 11th, 2019

What are polyphenols?

Polyphenols are chemicals found in plants. In the foods sources, they are rich in foods like cereals, tea, coffee, vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc. Polyphenols are categorized into four types:

  • Polyphenols artichokeFlavonoids: They are antioxidants (compounds that protect the cells from being damaged by unstable compounds produced in the body) predominantly found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, green tea, and red wine. They also reduce inflammatory responses (reactions that are characterized by red, painful swelling and sometimes even pus formation).
  • Stilbenes: These are compounds that are majorly present in red wine, grapes, and peanuts. They also have antioxidant properties.
  • Lignans: These are compounds that modify estrogen metabolism and are also known for treatments like cancer (abnormal multiplication of cells). They are found in food sources like flaxseed, linseed, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats, kale, broccoli, apricots, etc.
  • Phenolic acids: These are plant compounds that are associated with carbohydrates. They show antimicrobial (curbs the growth of microbes) and antioxidant properties. They are found in food sources like blueberry, cranberry, pear, cherry (sweet), apple, orange, grapefruit, cherry juice, apple juice, lemon, peach, potato, lettuce, spinach, coffee beans, tea, coffee, and cider.

Spinach, artichokes, green tea, black tea, Mexican oregano, flaxseed, etc are plant products rich in polyphenols. Usually, the polyphenols are present in plants. Every plant produces a different polyphenol amount.

Food itemsAmount
Clove15188 mg
Star anise5460 mg
Cocoa powder3448 mg
Dark chocolate1664 mg
Blueberries560 mg
Blackberries260 mg
Strawberries235 mg
Red raspberries215 mg
Back currants758 mg
Plums377 mg
Apples136 mg
Black beans59 mg
Hazelnuts495 mg
Walnuts28 mg
Spinach119 mg
Artichokes260 mg
Green tea89 mg
Red wine101 mg
Black tea102 mg

Why eat foods with polyphenols?

Polyphenols beansYou can benefit a lot from consuming them as they offer a wide spectrum of health benefits from anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-diabetic, protection for the heart and brain, anti-asthmatic, anti-aging, improves the gut health, protects the nerves, and also have shown anti-cancer properties.

Anti-inflammatory properties

  • Inflammation is a response of red, painful swelling. There are certain substances that play a role in an inflammatory response. An inflammatory response is created due to an infection or an injury as a symbol of the immune system acting on it.
  • Relying on foods like margarine, white bread, soda, red meat, etc tend to accelerate the inflammation.
  • Polyphenols are known to interfere with the substances involved in causing the inflammation thereby, minimizing the inflammation in your body.
  • Foods like olive oil, tomatoes, almonds, spinach, kale, apples, blueberries, tuna, sardines, etc., are known to fight inflammation.

Anti-microbial property

  • Microbial infection is where a microbe targets your body and causes diseases that disrupt your body’s normalcy. Consuming a polyphenol-rich diet in such cases has proven antimicrobial benefits.
  • Many studies point out the anti-bacterial, antiviral and antifungal activities of different polyphenol compounds. These polyphenol compounds interfere with the microbial machinery involved in causing the infection. In some cases, they are also known to prevent the infection.
  • Foods like soybean, green tea, grapefruit, garlic, cranberry, apple cider vinegar, etc., contain polyphenols showing this property.

Cerebrovascular protection

  • Cerebrovascular means the brain and its blood vessels (tube-like structures that transport blood).
  • Many studies on the use of red wine for brain health show that they provide protection from stroke, improve the blood flow and circulation in the brain.
  • Some are also known to attenuate the inflammatory responses in the brain.
  • Lentils, green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, fatty fish, blueberries, etc are some boosting neuroprotective polyphenol based foods you can consume.

Anti-diabetic properties

  • Polyphenols clovesThere are polyphenols that play a major role in diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that converts excess glucose from the blood into storage form.
  • Diabetes is the increase in the blood glucose levels either due to insufficient insulin production (type 1) or via insulin sensitivity (type 2).
  • This can be because of the damaging unstable products released because of various biological processes that damage the cells synthesizing the insulin or the functioning of insulin.
  • The consumptions of foods rich in polyphenols like coffee, cinnamon, ginger, soy, green tea, fruits, etc, are helpful in many ways.
  • These have anti-oxidant properties that protect your body from the damaging effect of unstable products.
  • They are also known to prevent carbohydrate digestion into glucose or breakdown of the stored carbohydrate into glucose.
  • All these properties minimize the levels of blood glucose in the blood.

Cardioprotective properties

  • Foods like peppers, parsley, soybeans, black grapes, orange, red wine, lemons, black tea, green tea, apples, strawberries, etc are known for their antioxidant benefits and are thus very useful for a healthy heart too.
  • These polyphenols protect the heart by reducing the blood pressure (the amount of pressure exerted by the blood on the blood vessels (tubular structures that transport the blood).
  • They are also known to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol from the blood. Hypertension is a state of high blood pressure.
  • A study in 2007, talks about the reduction in the blood pressure in people with a good dietary polyphenol intake. Here the blood pressure reduced by 9 ± 1.6 mmHg (systolic blood pressure or the pressure your heart exerts on the blood) and by 1.9 ± 1.0 mmHg (diastolic blood pressure or the pressure on the blood vessels when the heart is resting between the beats). The study also quotes on the reduction in the prevalence of high blood pressure from 86% to 68%.
  • Minimizing hypertension, bad cholesterol and improving the blood flow in the heart seem to aid in good cardio functioning.

Antiasthmatic and anti-allergy properties

  • Asthma is an inflammatory condition occurring in the lung airways. This narrows the airways of the lungs causing discomfort and difficulty to breathe.
  • An allergy to certain substances like dust, pollen, etc., and can also result in asthma.
  • There are certain proteins and biological substances synthesized during the response to an allergy-causing substance in the body.
  • Increased mucus production, asthma, fatigue, cough, headache, etc., are all symptoms of allergy.
  • The polyphenols modulate the response to an allergic ingredient. There are many studies to show that polyphenol intake reduced the activity of the substances involved in creating an allergy response or asthma.
  • There are other studies that also show the attenuation in the production of these chemicals. They also show anti-inflammatory effects on the lung airways thereby, minimizing the intensity of an asthmatic or an allergy attack.

Anti-aging properties

  • Polyphenols berriesAging not just refers to skin wrinkling. What ages within the body is seen outside and skin wrinkling is a symptom of aging.
  • As we age, the efficiency in the biological functions decreases, stress increases and this results production of unstable compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS) which cause further damage to your cells.
  • In fact, the brain consumes 20% of the oxygen, so obviously it is more prone to the deteriorating effect of the ROS.
  • Antioxidants or polyphenols act on these ROS molecules and protect the cells from the damage.
  • There are many commercial skin care products that make use of polyphenols. Sun damage or the UV rays of the sun also contribute to the release of the ROS. These skin care creams which contain polyphenols are known to reverse the skin aging and also protect the skin from sun damage.

Osteoprotective properties

  • The polyphenols diminish bone loss. They have antioxidant properties which protect the bone cells from the ROS damage.
  • They also have anti-inflammatory properties and this helps in erasing the bone loss. Any bone disorder or infection is exhibited as an inflammatory response by the immune cells. This can be eradicated with a polyphenol-rich diet.
  • The polyphenols promote the synthesis of the cells of the bone cells (osteoblastogenesis).
  • They also suppress the process of dissolving of the bone cells (osteoclastogenesis).
  • They enhance the immune activity of the bones thereby protecting the bone health.
  • Consumption of figs, citrus fruits, olive oil, apples, asparagus, etc., provide good polyphenol supply to help maintain good bone health.

Anti-cancer properties

  • Cancer is a deadly disease that results due to the abnormal multiplication of cells. These cancer or tumor masses reside in the body and live as a separate entity in the body feeding off on the body’s vital nutrient reserve.
  • Polyphenols have been proven to be effective anti-cancer agents from time to time. For example, there are sources pointing out cancer from spreading reducing to 48% and the tumor growth reducing by 68.6%.
  • Relying on food sources like green tea, dark chocolate, broccoli, legumes, red wine, etc., will give you the polyphenols that your body needs.
  • They show anti-cancer properties by preventing ROS damage, breaks down complex substances, killing cancer cells, regulates the hormones to disable cancer growth, enhance the immune response of the body against cancer cells, show anti-inflammatory properties protecting the healthy cells of the body and also attenuates the signaling pathways of the cancer cells.

Obesity

  • Obesity is a condition where there is excess fat build up in the body and obviously this leads to excess weight gain.
  • Around 650 million people were reported to be obese in 2016 (data reported by the World Health Organization).
  • With the prevalence of obesity increasing rapidly, it is important to bring some dietary or lifestyle changes. Exercise for obese individuals is a must.
  • Turmeric, blueberries, red grapes, red wine, peanuts, groundnuts, green tea, grapefruit, etc., seem to contain polyphenols to cope or curb or minimize obesity.
  • These polyphenols promote more utilization of fat cells for energy production, they suppress the production of fat cells, they minimize the spread of these fat cells, they reduce the abilities of the fat cells, they reduce or even prevent the fatty acid build up, and reduce inflammation. So the end result will be low weight, fat accumulation, and more fat utilization.

Risks and side effects of polyphenols

Polyphenols offer exceptional health benefits. Too much of these substances have their own bad effects.

  • Some studies point to the result of kidney damage in mice.
  • It is also said that excess polyphenols can alter the thyroid hormone (a hormone that is responsible for metabolism) production.
  • In some cases, grapefruit juice is also proven to interfere with some medications.
  • Cancer-causing results are reported in the cases of excess polyphenols.
  • Excess polyphenols interfere with the estrogen hormone (a hormone responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system) activity too.
  • Excessive polyphenol content can even destroy genetic material.

Polyphenol supplements

These supplements contain certain specific polyphenol compound in concentrated form. This must be taken under a doctor’s supervision only. The supplements also offer weight loss and heart protection benefits too. They are recommended for conditions like:

  • Diabetes (increased blood glucose) – they prevent insulin resistance.
  • Heart disease (due to bad cholesterol build up) – they reduce the inflammation and the bad cholesterol level.
  • Cancer – they limit the spread of cancer and also start killing the cancer cells.
  • Alzheimer’s (progressive nerve cells damage) – they protect the nerve cells from damage.

There are no side effects reported as of now but these supplements interfere with the blood thinning medications.

Polyphenols: Remember this…

Polyphenols are plant-based chemicals. They offer a wide range of benefits from antioxidant to antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory activities. Rather than supplements, it is best to consume polyphenols via food sources. Too much of polyphenols will result in toxic effects to the body. Keeping the health requirement in mind, the age, it is essential to collate a diet that not just includes polyphenols but also other vital nutrients.


TL;DR?

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