If you’ve been doing any research into the health benefits of different foods lately, there’s a good chance you’ve seen quite a few articles on polyphenols. But what are they exactly, and why should you care?
Let’s take a look at these incredible substances, their potential health benefits, and some of the best sources.
What Are Polyphenols?
Have you ever wondered why strawberries are red and blueberries are blue? Have you ever given any thought as to why certain plants taste certain ways? Polyphenols are the answer. They are chemical compounds found in plants. Not only do they play a major role in giving plants their color and taste, but they also help protect them in many different ways.1
But to understand how polyphenols benefit humans, we need to dig a little bit deeper. There are four main types of polyphenols – lignans, stilbenes, phenolic acids, and flavonoids. Here’s some information on why each one of them is so important to human health and some of the foods that are good sources of them.
Lignans deliver several health benefits. For example, they have been shown to help support colon health, as well as the health of the prostate, uterus, and ovaries. Lignans have also been shown to help protect against cardiovascular issues.2 Seeds are some of the best sources of lignans.3
Stilbenes help provide plants protection against harmful diseases.4 One form of stilbene that has been shown to deliver potent health benefits for humans is known as resveratrol. Research indicates that resveratrol could help to play a role in delaying some of the signs of aging.5 Food and drink sources include dark chocolate and red wine.6
3. Phenolic Acids
Found in many types of plants, phenolic acids may help keep your cardiovascular system healthy.7 You’ll find phenolic acids mainly in spices, such as cinnamon, clove, and oregano.8
Flavonoids are important nutrients found in a wide variety of plants. One category of flavonoids, anthocyanins, are responsible for giving them their colors.9 But flavonoids provide more than just aesthetic benefits. They also possess antioxidant properties.10 The reason this is important is that oxidative stress can do damage to the cells and tissues in your body. Antioxidants help protect against that damage.11 Sources of flavonoids include wine and green tea, as well as many fruits and vegetables.12
Health Benefits of Polyphenols
Here are just a few of the ways that polyphenols could help boost your health:
Supporting your Heart
Foods that contain polyphenols could play a major role in helping to make sure your heart stays healthy. For example, they support endothelium strength. This is a membrane that lines the blood vessels as well as the interior of the heart. The cells in the endothelium make sure that your vessels contract and relax properly — and maintain your blood pressure.13
Slowing the Visible Signs of Aging
As you already know, polyphenols have antioxidant properties. Oxidative stress can play havoc on your cells and tissues, especially as you get older.14 Research indicates that polyphenols may help reduce the damage suffered by cells, and they might also help protect you against certain age-related issues.15
Keeping Blood Sugar Levels Safe
Many serious illnesses can occur when the level of sugar in the blood gets too high. Polyphenols, according to research, show promise in helping to maintain those levels.16
Regulating the Growth of Blood Vessels
Blood vessels are obviously important in keeping us healthy and alive. The process of controlling the development of new blood vessels is known as angiogenesis. You want new blood vessels, but you don’t want your body to produce too many of them.17 Polyphenols are believed to help inhibit angiogenesis.18
Foods and Supplements that Contain Polyphenols
Plenty of healthy, delicious foods contain polyphenols. Spices are especially abundant in these amazing substances. Cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and cumin are just a few examples. Many herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, parsley, and basil, are also rich in this type of antioxidant.19 Green tea and red wine are great sources, as are in-season berries and fruits.20
Here are some other foods that contain polyphenols:
- Chestnuts, walnuts, and pecans21
- Celery seeds and ground flaxseed22
- Extra-virgin olive oil23
The Bottom Line
As you can see, polyphenols are amazing substances that have been shown to provide a wide range of health benefits. As long as your doctor says it’s safe to do so, you may want to consider including more foods and beverages with polyphenols into your dietary regimen.