If you hope to maintain robust health as you age and avoid cancer, heart disease, and many other ailments, you need to start thinking about what you put into your body everyday. If your diet consists of mostly sugary and refined, processed foods, you will surely expedite your body’s aging process. However, if your diet is always abundant in polyphenols, you will look better, have more energy, and hopefully, be free of the common chronic illnesses that affect so many in the developed world.
Polyphenols are a large family of natural compounds found in plant foods, especially berries, apples, cocoa, tea, coffee, and wine. Current evidence strongly supports consuming a diet rich in polyphenols as it contributes to the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and type 2 diabetes.
Anti-aging: Polyphenols are abundant in powerful antioxidants. They have anti-inflammatory effects, and they activate the key enzyme that controls metabolism, increases energy production, and slows down the aging process.
Brain Health: Polyphenols protect nerve cells in the brain against injury induced by toxins, suppress inflammation in the brain, and promote memory, learning, and cognitive function. Studies have demonstrated the role of polyphenols in the prevention and amelioration of Alzheimer’s disease.
Digestive health: Polyphenols are the chemicals that give vegetables and fruits their colors. They also represent the plant’s primary defense mechanism against invading bacteria and other parasites. Studies show that polyphenols change the composition of the gut bacteria, increasing the counts of good bacteria and inhibiting the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
Heart health: Polyphenols protect cells and body chemicals against damage caused by free radicals (reactive atoms). For example, when low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is oxidized, it can become glued to arteries, causing damage and leading to coronary heart disease.
In addition, polyphenols have beneficial effects on the lining of blood vessels by increasing the availability of nitric oxide, which exerts a range of protective effects by controlling elasticity of the blood vessel wall, allowing the heart to contract normally.
Prevent Cancer: Polyphenols slow down the growth and proliferation of cancer cells by cutting off the formation of new blood vessels needed for tumor growth. They also act as antioxidants, reduce DNA damage, and decrease inflammation.
Prevent Diabetes: Polyphenols show benefits in controlling blood sugar spikes after meals and improving insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.
High Polyphenol Foods
More than 8,000 polyphenolic compounds have been identified. Among them, flavonoids, phenolic acid, stilbenes, and lignans are several categories of polyphenols that have been widely researched and have significant health benefits. The following are different types of foods with high polyphenol levels.
Apples, apricots, berries (all kinds), cherries, citrus fruits (all kinds), currants, dates, grapes, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, pomegranates, prunes, quinces, and rhubarb.
Artichokes, broccoli, celery, cherry or grape tomatoes, corn, eggplant, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, olives, parsnips, pumpkins, red cabbage, rutabagas, scallions, shallots, spicy peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnip, and watercress.
Legumes, nuts, and seeds
Almonds, black beans, black-eyed peas, cashews, chestnuts, chick peas, English peas, fava beans, flax seeds, green peas, hazelnuts, lentils, pecans, peanuts, pinto beans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, red kidney beans, snap peas, soy, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.
Herbs and spices
Basil, capers, caraway, celery seed, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger, lemon verbana, majoram, oregano, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, sage, spearmint, star anise, thyme, and turmeric.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Red wine and beer
Tea and coffee
Green, black, and oolong teas.
How To Boost Your Intake Of Polyphenol Antioxidants
- Eat and drink polyphenol-rich foods throughout the day. Blood levels of polyphenols will peak soon after they are consumed, then decrease as they are metabolized or excreted from the body. Some polyphenols will not be absorbed into the bloodstream, but will merely pass through the digestive tract. These polyphenols are still very important as they help to prevent diseases like colon cancer.
- Eat a variety of richly-hued vegetables and fruits (in particular, berries). To get the most out of your veggies, enjoy them in a variety of ways – raw, steamed, boiled, baked, and grilled. Polyphenols usually survive some light cooking or heating.
- Cook with herbs and spices. Not only do they enhance flavor, many are also very rich in polyphenols.
- Tea and coffee are both abundant in polyphenols. The decaffeinated version may lose some polyphenols depending on the method of decaffeination. Avoid the ones that rely on the solvent ethyl acetate to remove the caffeine. The better method uses only water and carbon dioxide. Check the label as the better ones usually explain their decaffeination process.
- If you drink alcohol, favor red wine and beer over hard liquor as the latter is distilled, so it essentially does not contain any polyphenols. Red wine is a very rich source of the famous polyphenol, resveratrol. Pinot Noir wines from the colder, damper climates in Oregon have the highest concentrations of resveratrol as it protects the grapes from mold in such growing conditions. Beer is usually made from barley and hops which contain a variety of polyphenols. For the highest concentrations, go for the well-hopped bitter beers such as India Pale Ales or dark beers. Non-alcoholic red wine and beer are also a good source of polyphenols as well.
- Eat your dark chocolate. A small square a day will keep the doctor away. Choose dark, bitter chocolate (over 70% cacao) and make sure it does not contain high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oil.
- Avoid foods that are sources of free radicals because they neutralize or destroy the polyphenol antioxidants. Refrain from eating deep-fried foods, charred meats, and refined, processed foods. Deep fried foods are notorious sources of free radicals because the deep frying oil is being continuously oxidized as it is heated. The fried food is also cooked at very high temperatures, so more free radicals are formed.
- Relax and make sure you get enough rest and sleep. Your body will use up polyphenol antioxidants faster if you are constantly under stress.