It has often been said that “What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” but we found it smarter, safer, and healthier to take the approach that “What you do know can help you.” That’s the case with polyphenols, about which we have been learning much more in the last decade or two, and that is polyphenols can help us, healthwise for sure, and in a variety of ways.
It’s close to impossible to go through an entire day that includes three meals and, in that time, not consume at least some polyphenols as part of our diet, even if we aren’t aware that we are ingesting them. Polyphenols are micronutrients that are plentiful throughout our dietary choice, and they are active in helping to prevent degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular conditions, per academic.oup.com.
Much of what good they can do on our behalf depends on the quantity of polyphenols consumed – over which we obviously have a lot of control – and their bioavailability.
Polyphenols Have Antioxidant Properties
Although more research needs to be done to confirm whether or not polyphenols are, themselves, actually antioxidants, emerging research has shown that polyphenols do indeed have antioxidant properties. They are good candidates to help thwart diseases associated with oxidative stress, to include neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes, as well as cardiovascular diseases.
There’s still more to the polyphenols story. They also have been shown to be beneficial as a prebiotic, aiding in the area of stomach health. This is accomplished by ramping up the ratio of “good” bacteria in the gut, which translates to producing a positive effect in terms of weight management and overall health.
What Else Do We Know about Polyphenols?
They are classified as phytochemicals because they are found in natural plant food sources – for which the color/pigment is provided by polyphenols – that have antioxidant properties. Plus, there are more than 8,000 types of polyphenols that have been singled out for identification. The four major classifications of polyphenols are flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory as well as antioxidant; stilbenes, found in red wine and peanuts; lignans, which can be found in flaxseeds and legumes, among numerous other sources; and phenolic acids, of which there are several sub-classes and 168 different compounds, per nutritionadvance.com.
Top Sources of Polyphenols
OK, let’s get right to it, what you have been reading (and waiting) for – popular and abundant sources of polyphenols. Here are a dozen to get you started:
- Black Currants. Chances are you’ve never added these to your grocery list. You ought to. They are jammed full of polyphenols, and studies have shown them to have great potential as a therapeutic food. Lots of vitamin C here, too.
- Black tea. No, this is not a blend of the terms “black gold” and “Texas tea” mentioned in The Beverly Hillbillies theme song. Black tea comes from the same variety of plant from which we get green tea, but the black version is processed differently.
- Blueberries. An excellent source of antioxidants; also known to help guard against age-related cognitive loss. Other berries fit this list, too, such as bilberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
- Cinnamon. Ah, yes, another good excuse to load up on this delicious sweet (but let’s be reasonable, too much isn’t good). It’s also great for regulating cholesterol levels.
- Cloves. Per nutritionadvance.com, these are No. 1 on the list, containing 15,188 milligrams of polyphenols per gram. These little brown “wooden sticks” might not look real scrumptious, but they are, and they can do a lot of good for guarding our health.
- Dark chocolate. Speaking of sweets . . . not a whole lot of arm-twisting needed here, right? Not just any dark chocolate, though – you want those with a high cacao content, preferably 70 percent and above. The higher that number, the lower the sugar content and the higher the amount of nutrients, per nutritionadvance.com.
- Dried peppermint. This spearmint/watermint hybrid is a well-liked herb no matter where you go in the world.
- Dried rosemary. A powerful herb with a great flavor that makes it terrific for seasoning dishes, it is full of both flavonoids and phenolic compounds that fall under the polyphenol umbrella.
- Pecans. Low in carbs, rich in nutrition and micronutrients.
- Red wine. Ahhh, back to the “good stuff.” First, though, write on a blackboard 100 times: “Consume only in moderation. Consume only in moderation. Consume . . .”
- Star anise. A spice that originates from an evergreen tree plant found in China and Vietnam. Provides a licorice-like flavor when added to dishes, and it is usually found added to Asian foods.
- Supplements. Hey, you didn’t think we were going to leave these off the list, did you? Of course not. If you’re not sure how much you are getting in the way of polyphenols through your usual diet, well, try some nutritional supplements that are loaded with them. Remove all doubt, and over time save a lot of money on what otherwise could be wasteful grocery shopping.