If you’ve been researching the latest discoveries when it comes to longevity, healthy foods, and taking care of yourself, then you’ve likely seen the word “polyphenol” a lot lately. So, if you’re interested in learning more about polyphenols, you’ve come to the right place.
Consider this article a sort of basic course in all things related to polyphenols. Not only will this detail what they are, the foods that contain them, and how to get them – it’ll also answer your biggest questions about polyphenols and what they can do for you.
What are Polyphenols?
Dietary polyphenols are important compounds found in lots of natural foods, like –
- Lectin-free cereal grains, like millet
But, polyphenols aren’t just the building blocks of good-for-you, plant-based chemicals, they’ve also got a lot of incredible antioxidant properties.1
And if you’ve ever wondered how fruits and vegetables get their vibrant colors, or thought about what determines their flavor and aroma – then you’ve thinking polyphenols.
They are the unique compounds that give fruit, berries, and vegetables their bright hues and contribute to the bitterness, flavor, aroma, and oxidative power of various natural foods.
In fact, even the number of polyphenols in a given food can vary, depending on where it’s grown, how it’s harvested, how it’s transported, how ripe it might be when it’s picked or eaten, and even the way in which the food is cooked.
Now, technically, polyphenols are characterized by the existence of more than one phenol unit – or building block – per molecule. That’s what makes them many – or poly – phenols.
But there’s another name for polyphenols – phenolics. Phenolics are large clusters of the phenol (or plant chemical) rings.
So, Why Do Plants Need Polyphenols in the First Place?
The answer here is really very simple: Plants produce these natural chemical compounds to help them fight against potential predators like –
- And natural threats like too much exposure to the sun
You see, like people, plants can get sunburned, too.
So polyphenols help provide you with a bunch of beneficial effects – especially once they’re metabolized by your good gut bacteria. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let’s discuss the following question (since it gets asked a lot) …
Are Antioxidants the Same Thing as Polyphenols?
Antioxidants and polyphenols are often considered to be the same thing, but technically, many polyphenols actually contain antioxidants.
For instance, you’ve probably heard of flavanols before, right? Flavonols are the antioxidants found in dark chocolate. Have you ever read about resveratrol? That’s the antioxidant found in wine.
And there are plenty of other antioxidants too – like vitamin A (aka beta-carotene), or vitamin C, vitamin E, or even catechins.
So, what do antioxidants do for your body? Well, their biggest claim to fame is that they can help prevent (or at least slow down) cell damage caused by oxidants. (After all, antioxidant literally translates to “against” “oxidants.”)
Now, oxidants are also known as free radicals. These nasty chemicals are found in the environment, but they’re also produced naturally in your body. While they’re often helpful, if you develop too many, it can result in some pretty bad news.
Turns out, your body makes these little devils to help fight off various viruses and microbes. The problem is that if you make too many, they can wreak havoc on your system, often contributing to certain fatal health issues and heart health concerns.
Free radicals can enter your body every day if you’re exposed to air pollution, cigarette smoke, or significant amounts of alcohol. So when it comes to fighting these destructive forces, you need all the help you can get.
Luckily, there are a massive amount of polyphenol compounds to help your body weather those challenges. In fact, recent reports say there are more than 8,000 polyphenolic compounds that have been identified in various plant species. And more are being discovered all the time.2
What Role Does Polyphenol Content Play in Humans?
Now, polyphenols happen to be the most abundant antioxidants in your diet.
But, when it comes to how they help your body – it all boils down to protection. Polyphenols protect your body’s tissue against oxidative stress and associated pathologies, such as like certain chronic and fatal diseases, heart health issues, and even inflammation.3
What are the Major Health Benefits of Polyphenols?
More research is being done every day when it comes to the specific health benefits of polyphenols. For the sake of this tell-all, let’s break them down into the following categories –
- Anti-aging effects
- Brain function health benefits
- Heart health help
The process of aging is simple. As you get older, your body’s forced to deal with more and more damaging changes to the cells and tissues that make it up. Sadly, that can mean increases in the risks of diseases and certain health issues. Of course, a major component of aging is oxidative stress.
The thing is, your body is always fighting oxidative damage. But as you age, the rate of damage can grow, because your body’s ability to heal itself slows down.
So, an antioxidant-rich diet could be effective in reducing the harmful effects of aging.
Now, if you focus on eating The Big 3 …
- Dark Leafy Vegetables
- The right nuts
- And polyphenol-rich, in-season fruits
It could really help to protect your skin from environmental factors like the sun’s nasty UV rays.
Again, polyphenols, like resveratrol – which is found in red wine – have active qualities to help protect your skin. So, based on mounting research, polyphenols really can be dubbed anti-aging compounds.4
Brain Function Benefits
Of course, oxidative stress effects all kinds of cells and tissues. That’s why it can sometimes cause your brain to function improperly. However, remember that polyphenols have antioxidative power. So, if you increase your polyphenol intake, you could be protecting yourself from the development of potentially troubling neurological concerns.
In fact, polyphenols can also support cognitive cell functions, like:
Cell Differentiation – this is when cells change from their initial cell type to other cell types
Signaling – that’s when neurons send messages to your brain to cause certain types of responses or task your body with specific jobs
Proliferation – the rapid reproduction of a cell, body part, or organism
Apoptosis – the natural death of cells that exists as a controlled part of your body’s growth5
Heart Health Support
Another amazing benefit of polyphenols is their ability to support a healthy blood pressure.
You see, the endothelium is a thin membrane that lines the inside of your heart, as well as your blood vessels. And endothelial cells release substances that monitor the relaxation and tightening of your blood vessels. They also help regulate blood clotting.
Research also shows a possible correlation between polyphenols and fewer incidences of heart health issues. For example, a polyphenol-rich diet might be linked to a lower risk of blood flow decrease.
Polyphenol metabolites can also encourage blood vessels to produce more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide can relax arteries, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of plaque sticking to artery walls.6
So, now that you know how polyphenols can help your health, you might be wondering …
What Types of Polyphenols are There?
Since there’s such an abundance of these antioxidants in the world, scientists have grouped them into for major groups – and these categories are broken down into smaller subcategories.
Phenolic acids are distributed throughout the entire plant in which they’re found. And more research is being done on phenolic acids, because they’re believed to protect people against a bunch of different ailments and cardiovascular issues.7
There are different kinds of phenolic acids, like:
- Caffeic acid
- Ferulic acid (found in coffee)
- Coumaric acid
Phenolic acids, like those above, can also be found in spices, including –
Flavonoids are one of the largest and most common groups of polyphenols. In fact, you can find them all over nature in herbs, citrus fruit, berries, grapes, apples, and even in certain legumes. Just make sure, if you cook legumes, to use a pressure cooker to reduce their lectin content.9
Flavonoids are special because they have antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory properties.10
If you’ve heard of any specific polyphenol, it’s likely you’ve heard of flavonoids. They’re the most “famous” of the polyphenols. For instance, you may know the names below already –
Anthocyanidins – These are the pigment polyphenols. They give plants their color.
Flavanones – These are in oranges, lemons, and grapefruits.
Flavan-3-ols – These are America’s favorite polyphenols. They’re found in bananas, blueberries, peaches, and pears.
Flavonols (aka catechins) – The highest concentrations of these are found in apples, almonds, and even quinoa.
Flavones – Chrysin, baicalein, and galangin are all present in flavones. You can find flavones in celery, parsley, and lettuce.11
Of course, there are polyphenols that make more of an appearance in other diets than they seem to in the standard American diet. Stilbenes are one example. They have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that provide protection against phytopathogens – organisms which cause plant diseases – and ultraviolet stress.12
Resveratrol is a stilbene found in grapes (grape juice, wine), dark chocolate, blueberries, and even certain nuts.
And scientists have recently said that resveratrol might improve your health, help reduce chronic health issues, and even slow some of the visual signs of aging.13
Lignans have good therapeutic potential. For instance, they might help lower bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), enhance good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein), and even lend a hand when it comes to the health of your liver.14
Now that you know what the major groups of polyphenols are, you might be asking yourself where you can find good sources of polyphenols? Of course, there are some great polyphenol supplements out there, but if you’re looking to find them straight from the source, go to your favorite fruits and veggies.
Sources of Polyphenols
What Fruit Has the Greatest Polyphenol Content?
There are many different kinds of in-season fruits that are sources of polyphenols. You’ll want to look for them in:
- Dark berries
- Black chokeberries
- Black elderberries
- Black Currants
- And – surprise, surprise – avocado
What Vegetables Have Polyphenols?
Of course, lots of veggies are full of polyphenols, but check out the following for a polyphenol boost:
- Black olives
- Green olives
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Red chicory
- Green chicory
- Red onions
- Curly endive
And, fruits and veggies aren’t the only places to load up on polyphenols …
What are the Polyphenols in Tea?
Now, different types of teas contain different types of polyphenols. But most of the time you’ll find catechins, theaflavins, tannins, and flavonoids in tea. Believe it or not, tea polyphenols actually often account for about 30 percent of the dry weight of the solids in brewed green tea.15
And tea polyphenols may actually have the bioactivity to interrupt the development of a few chronic diseases.
In fact, in recent epidemiological studies in Japan, a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease was found for those who consumed an encapsulated green tea extract (which equaled almost 10 cups of green tea a day). Furthermore, green tea exhibited life-prolonging effects.16
But tea isn’t the only drink that contains polyphenols. You might also be pleased to know that wine contains these antioxidants as well. The question is …
Which Wine Has the Most Polyphenols?
As it turns out, the total amount of polyphenols in a glass of red wine is about 200 mg. Red wine definitely has more than its white counterpart. White wine only has about 30 mg. And flavonoids make up the majority of those polyphenols in red wine.
So, when it comes to polyphenol-rich wines, reach for the following…
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Petite Syrah
- Pinot noir
Those are the reds with the highest levels of polyphenols. And generally speaking, the drier the red, the higher the polyphenol count.17
Of course, if you prefer beer to wine, you might want to know the answer to the question below.
Are There Polyphenols in Beer?
Yes, there are polyphenols in beer. In fact, malt and hops are the direct sources of beer polyphenols.18
But beer isn’t the healthiest way to get your polyphenols. You see, polyphenols are the primary natural antioxidant in beer. When it comes to beer polyphenols, they can react as antioxidants in three ways:
- They can help trap free radicals.
- They can stop or slow down the actions of lipoxygenases – enzymes that can cause inflammation, skin disorders, and even the development of unhealthy masses in the body.19
- Finally, they help clean the bloodstream of metals – like iron and copper.
Now, even though moderate beer drinking has been associated with these health benefits, red wine still beats beer when it comes to helping your health. Most likely because beer does have a lower phenolic content than red wine.20
What Studies Are There on Polyphenols?
It turns out, researchers at the National Institutes of Health are conducting several different studies on polyphenols and antioxidants. In fact, they’re currently working on antioxidant studies about how vitamin E affects inflammation, the effects of antioxidants on your immune system, and even how certain polyphenols affect serious diseases.21
But that’s not all. The following studies have also been completed, or are underway –
So, you can see, research is plentiful – and scientists are always working to learn more about polyphenols and antioxidants. Not only that, but researchers are discovering all sorts of new ways in which polyphenols can help you improve your health.
In fact, recently it’s been proposed that …
Polyphenols can even help digestion.
Your gastrointestinal tract plays a pretty huge part in your health. And doctors now think your microbiome is one of the most complex organs in your body. Why?
Well, there are around 100 trillion bacteria that make up the flora in your gut, and these organisms might be very important in terms of maintaining good mental and physical health. In fact, scientists believe these bacteria even affect your weight and mood.
Now, plant polyphenols can actually influence your gut bacteria – or your gut bugs.
That’s because they also appear to have a prebiotic effect – that is, they help nurture the “good” gut bugs in your stomach. Of course, this adds to your gut’s ability to protect itself against gastrointestinal disorders and diseases, and it even helps your intestinal immune system protect itself.22
Are There Polyphenol Vitamins/Supplements?
Lots of different kinds of extracts are used in the making of polyphenol supplements. You might see ingredients like grape seeds, grape skin, or olive pulp used in the production of various supplements.
If you do decide to add a supplement to your health regimen, you should know that though there are a bunch of different supplements out there, all supplements are not created equal.
But, our team has actually created a revolutionary formula that combines the power of 34 polyphenol-rich superfruits with natural fat-burning ingredients and probiotics. It’s called Vital Reds, and it can help boost your energy levels, improve your digestion, and even encourage healthier-looking skin.
How To Buy the Best Polyphenol Vitamin? (a buying guide)
Even though there are a number of polyphenol supplements out there, it’s hard to know which supplement to try. So I’ve put together a few tips to help you pick the right supplement for you…
- How does the supplement taste? Will I enjoy drinking/eating this?
- How many types of polyphenols are in the supplement? If there are only a few, keep looking. Try to find a supplement with as many as possible.
- Is it easy to prepare? Do you need a blender, or do you have to swallow large pills?
And, even if you’re using a supplement, you’ll want to continue to load your diet with polyphenols.
But, How Do You Get More Polyphenols in Your Diet?
Again, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and nuts, will usually give you the antioxidants you need. But a varied diet of natural, one-ingredient foods works best. The following polyphenol-rich foods should be sought out and used in your favorite recipes:
- Spices – Cloves, star anise, capers, curry powder, ginger, cumin, cinnamon
- Dried herbs – Peppermint, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, lemon verbena, etc.
- In-season Dark Berries – Cherries, strawberries, and raspberries contain anthocyanidins.
- Beverages – Cocoa, green tea, black tea, red wine
- Seeds – Flaxseed (ground only), celery seeds
- Nuts – Chestnuts, pecans, walnuts
- Wine and sorghum contain stilbenes
- Oils – Extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil (make sure olive oil is always extra-virgin)
- Dark chocolate (70% cacao or more)
Finally, Can Polyphenols Improve Your Skin?
The answer is a resounding “yes.”
Now, the anti-aging health benefits of the pomegranate have been shown to include a photoprotective effect on skin cells – that means they can help your skin cope with molecular damage caused by sunlight.23
Learn all about pomegranate extract benefits.
In fact, one study showed that skin treated with pomegranate products showed less collagen loss and skin protein breakdown. These effects might actually help your skin maintain its elasticity and youthful appearance.24
Pomegranates also contain ellagic acid, gallic acid, and punicalagin which have shown anti-inflammatory potential. And, further studies reveal that oral administration of ellagic acid alone can help reduce hyperpigmentation caused by UV rays on the skin – that’s when patches of your skin become darker in color than the rest of your normal surrounding skin.25,26
So, given their abilities, polyphenols aren’t just excellent for your health… they can also give you a healthier, more youthful appearance.
In the end, polyphenols are all around you. There’s no reason you should be depriving yourself of one of nature’s most effective, safest, and enjoyable health aids.
Do yourself a big favor, and try to up your polyphenol intake – either with a great supplement or just by eating more of the mentioned in-season fruits and vegetables. And let the only high-fat diet foods be those with names like extra-virgin olive oil, sesame, or coconut oil.