Diet

What Are Polyphenols? Types, Benefits, and Food Sources

Plant-based foods form an important part of a healthy diet. There are many nutrients, antioxidants, and other compounds in these foods. A lot of these compounds have been scientifically researched.

Researchers have shown that certain plant components help the human body in specific ways. This may include protecting the body against oxidative damage. Some components help to enhance immune function, while others provide benefits for people who have problems like type 2 diabetes

Polyphenols are a vital plant component that most people do consume on a daily basis. Those individuals who do not eat enough plant-based foods, however, may fail to get enough polyphenols.

These components have been linked to several health benefits. They are also potent antioxidants that can protect the DNA of the human body. 

We take a look at what polyphenols are. This post also considers the foods that are rich in polyphenols, and we consider the potential benefits provided by these plant-based compounds. 

What Are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are plant-based compounds. Most people already get some polyphenols from their diet. Many foods contain these natural compounds.

Apart from food sources, polyphenols are sometimes also added to supplements. These supplements are generally targeted at individuals who need a more powerful effect from polyphenols. 

Most individuals prefer to get more polyphenols from their diet. These compounds are associated with powerful antioxidant activities in the human body. They help to fight against the presence of free radicals. These are unhealthy cells that cause damage.

Free radicals lead to oxidative damage in the body. This can, in turn, lead to the development of several diseases. Free radicals are also known to damage the human body at a DNA level. 

An increased intake of polyphenols has been linked to many health-related advantages. People often try to get more polyphenols to help with digestive well-being. Polyphenols are also linked to improved blood sugar control, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and more. 

Some factors can affect the body’s ability to absorb and metabolize polyphenols found in food. Thus, some people may benefit more from increasing their consumption of foods that are rich in polyphenols. 

Polyphenol bioavailability is a factor that needs to be considered. On a more personal level, intestinal absorption and metabolism tend to play a role in deciding how well the body will absorb polyphenols in food. 

In its most natural form, which means from whole-foods, polyphenols are beneficial and safe. When a patient turns to supplements, however, there is a risk that comes to mind.

Patients do need to be careful when using a polyphenol supplement. They should ensure they check in with their doctor if they have existing medical conditions. This ensures they only take the supplement if it is safe for them. 

High Polyphenol Foods

It is quite easy to ensure a person gets enough polyphenols from their diet. This is because there is a significant number of foods that are rich in polyphenols. Many people will notice that they are already getting a high amount of these compounds in their diet.

Others can choose to make a few adjustments to their current diet. Adding a few foods that are known to be rich in polyphenols would help to increase the individual’s daily consumption of these compounds. 

In this section, we will take a look at high polyphenol foods. We also consider additional benefits that may come with each of these foods. This will help a person decide which foods will be the ideal options to include in their diet. 

Cloves and Spices

Spices are some of the most common ingredients we use when cooking in the kitchen. Most people have spice racks or containers for their spices. There is a significant variety of spices that can be used. Spices are great for adding flavor to dishes and may also be an excellent way to increase polyphenol intake. 

One study looked at how foods ranked when their polyphenol content was to be taken into consideration. Over 100 different food types were tested to see which are the best for increasing polyphenol intake. 

Among the foods tested, cloves ranked as the number one source. The study found that a 100-gram pile of cloves contained about 15.188 grams of polyphenols. This is an impressive concentration of polyphenols, making up more than 15% of the cloves. 

Cloves were not the only spice that ranked at the top. The study noted that several other spices and seasonings also provide a rich dose of polyphenols. These included:

  • Dried Peppermint – 11.96% polyphenol content

  • Star Anise – 5.46% polyphenol content

The study showed that by experimenting with different spices, it is possible already to increase a person’s intake of these plant-based compounds. 

Dark Chocolate

Another potent source of polyphenols would be cocoa. In tests comparing different foods to each other, cocoa powder ranked as number four. This is a natural powder that is used in the production of dark chocolate. While bitter, dark chocolate comes with a wide range of health benefits. 

Milk chocolate may also be an option that contains polyphenols – but there is very little cocoa powder in this type of chocolate. Thus, the polyphenol content in milk chocolate does not really add up to other sources of these compounds. 

Cocoa contains about 3.448% polyphenols. Dark chocolate is not entirely made of cocoa powder. This means its polyphenol content is somewhat lower. Research has shown that dark chocolate contains an estimated 1.664% polyphenol content. This is still a great way to increase a person’s intake of these antioxidants. 

Cocoa has been associated with other benefits too. It may help reduce blood pressure levels, and the antioxidants in cocoa are great for improving heart health. 

Berries

Berries also offer a rich source of polyphenols, along with other antioxidants and nutrients. There is a variety of berries that you can choose from. Each berry type comes with its own set of health benefits. 

The berry variety with the highest concentration of polyphenols would be the black chokeberry. It contains over 1.7% polyphenols. For every 100 grams of these berries, a person would get a dose of 1,700mg polyphenols. 

Other berry types also contain polyphenols. Some of the best options include:

  • Strawberries

  • Red raspberries

  • Blackberries

  • Highbush blueberries

These berries contain between 215mg and 560mg polyphenols for every 100 grams of the fruit consumed. 

Many berry varieties are known to aid in promoting better heart health. Strawberries are also a rich source of both manganese and vitamin C. These are both essential nutrients that the body needs every day. This berry is also known to help with the regulation of blood pressure control. It also has several benefits for the cardiovascular system. 

Beans

Beans offer an excellent protein source for vegetarians and vegans. They are also rich in several plant-based components that the body needs to stay healthy. Among these are polyphenols.

Several varieties of beans contain polyphenols. The number of polyphenols is not as rich as with some of the other foods on the list. Still, every bit of these compounds added to a person’s diet will ultimately add up and provide beneficial properties in their body. 

White beans and black beans are great sources of polyphenols. For every 100 grams of white beans consumed, a person would get around 51mg of polyphenols. Black beans contain a slightly higher concentration, at 59mg polyphenols per 100 grams of these beans. 

There are other nutrients also found in beans. Black beans are also rich in fiber, vitamin B6, and several phytonutrients-this helps to promote a healthier cardiovascular system. They also contribute to a lower risk of chronic diseases. 

Nuts

Nuts make for an excellent snack to pack for lunch. It is also a healthier alternative to potato chips and other junk food that may tempt a person.

Some people do find that nuts contain a high number of calories. Still, this food is a rich source of minerals and vitamins. Nuts can also be a great option for increasing polyphenol intake. 

Nuts generally contain between 28mg and 495mg of polyphenols per 100 grams of a specific nut variety. It is important to note that the level of polyphenols in roasted and raw nuts may differ. Some of the best nuts to eat for polyphenols include:

  • Hazelnuts

  • Almonds

  • Pecan nuts

  • Walnuts

The best option would be to combine different nuts into a snack packet. This allows a person to benefit from the various properties of each nut variety. 

Vegetables

Vegetables need to form an essential part of any person’s diet. They are rich in nutrients, contribute to a person’s daily fiber intake, and helps to add antioxidants into the body. There are a lot of different vegetables that people can choose from. Some of these contain high levels of polyphenols. 

Some vegetables offer up to 260mg of polyphenols for every 100 grams. Excellent veggie sources of polyphenols include chicory, red onion, spinach, and artichokes. These can be easily combined with other vegetables. This allows for a more wholesome and nutritious meal. 

Olive Oil

Olive oil is one of the most widely used cooking ingredients throughout the world. It is a much healthier alternative to regular cooking oil.

It also adds a unique flavor to any type of food. This oil is known to be rich in plant-based nutritional content. This, of course, includes polyphenols. Olive oil also contains additional plant-based antioxidants to further fight against free radicals in the body. 

Green Tea

Green tea is a popular beverage that can be enjoyed hot or cold. It is also known as an excellent weight loss aid. Many people drink green tea due to its rich antioxidant content.

Green tea contains about 89mg polyphenols per 100ml. A person may also opt for black tea, which contains a little more polyphenols. For every 100ml black tea consumed, a person would get about 102mg of polyphenols into their body. 

Red Wine

Alcohol often gets a bad reputation. This is primarily due to the worldwide pandemic related to alcoholism and substance abuse. Moderated consumption of certain alcoholic beverages may actually be beneficial. Red wine is at the top of the list here.

A 100ml glass of red wine contains about 101mg of polyphenols. Red wine also contains resveratrol, one of the world’s most powerful antioxidants that are known to fight against heart disease and more. 

What Are The Benefits Of Polyphenols?

We have taken a look at the best food sources of polyphenols. We will now also consider the benefits that have been associated with polyphenols.

Several studies have already looked at these plant-based compounds. Consumption of polyphenols helps to provide several important benefits to the body. From heart disease to helping to improve gut microbiota, let’s look at these benefits. 

Diabetes

Dietary polyphenols and tea polyphenols may contribute to improvements in diabetes management. Type 2 diabetes is a major public health concern around the world. It can shorten a person’s lifespan, lead to amputations, and more. Managing the condition is often considered a tough task by many patients. 

Polyphenols may help to provide improvements in blood sugar regulation. The phenolic acids may also be helpful in patients with insulant resistance.

Polyphenols might improve insulin sensitivity. This ensures insulin can be utilized more effectively in the body. An increase in polyphenol intake could also potentially reduce a patient’s risk of developing diabetes. 

Obesity

Obesity is another major concern. More than half the population is overweight or obese. Many people decide to take a dietary supplement to help with weight management. Unfortunately, these often fail to provide effective results. 

Phenolic compounds might be a key to improving weight management. In one study, a flavonoid supplement was used among participants. The participants were obese.

The goal was to see if polyphenols may help with improving waist circumference and BMI. Higher polyphenol intake was found to contribute to a reduced BMI. Waist circumference was also lower in individuals who had a higher intake of polyphenols. 

Heart Disease

In most countries, heart disease is the biggest killer among all chronic conditions. There are various heart diseases that patients can develop. The cardiovascular system is critical to human survival. It ensures blood is pumped to all tissues throughout the body. 

Several studies show heart-related benefits associated with polyphenols. In one review paper, researchers considered the effect of polyphenols from cocoa on heart disease risk factors.

Blood pressure levels were reduced in just a period of two weeks. There was also a decrease in LDL cholesterol levels. At the same time, HDL cholesterol levels were increased among people who had an increase in polyphenol intake. 

Inflammation

Research has found that inflammation may be a key factor in all chronic diseases. It is often an underlying factor related to heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Acute inflammatory responses are essential to help the body fight off invaders. It also helps with wound healing.

Chronic and low-grade inflammation, however, can lead to disease. It may also damage the human body. 

Some studies have sown that polyphenols provide anti-inflammatory effects in the human body. These studies have focused a lot on polyphenols that come from green tea. Other sources of polyphenols may provide similar benefits. 

Cancer Prevention

Both inflammation and free radicals seem to play a role in the development of cancers. This includes prostate cancer, as well as other forms of the disease. Polyphenols have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This makes it an effective compound to fight against both factors associated with cancer. 

Research shows that polyphenols have antitumor effects in the prostate gland among male patients. It helps to downregulate the level of PSA. It also selectively activates certain receptors in the prostate. Furthermore, polyphenols seem to suppress androgen receptors in the prostate gland

Risks And Side Effects

Consuming more foods that contain polyphenols is considered generally safe for most. There is no proof of serious complications associated with a higher intake of polyphenol foods. 

There are different ways to consume polyphenols. Risks may become an issue when using a supplement that contains these plant-based micronutrients. Many supplements will contain a concentrated form of polyphenols. This can cause a high intake of these compounds. In turn, some patients may experience side-effects. 

Isoflavones, which form part of polyphenol supplements, may have estrogenic activity in the human body. In excess amounts, this can become an issue. Side-effects in men may include erectile problems. There may also be an increased risk of developing problems with the prostate. Some men may find that their breast tissue grows larger due to an excessive estrogen activity caused by the isoflavones. 

Genotoxicity has been recorded in the past. This activity was only linked to the use of polyphenol supplements. Additionally, some researchers have noted a possible carcinogenic effect caused by supplement forms of polyphenols. 

Apart from these side-effects, interactions also need to be taken into account. Patients need to be careful when using polyphenol supplements with prescription or over-the-counter drugs. There are a few interactions that can happen – which may sometimes lead to serious complications. 

If a patient is currently taking any drugs, they should discuss the use of polyphenol supplements with their doctor first. A complete list of drugs should be provided to the doctor. This will help the healthcare practitioner see if there are risks of interactions. 

Some studies have also shown polyphenol supplements may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron. This mineral is critical for the well-being of the body. Poor absorption of iron puts the patient at risk of anemia. 

Conclusion

Polyphenols are antioxidant components found in plant foods. They are also classified as micronutrients. These components have health benefits for the human body. They are also known to be powerful antioxidants. Increasing the intake of polyphenols may come with several advantages.

It may help patients with neurodegenerative diseases. Blood sugar regulation in patients with diabetes may also improve. Researchers also show that polyphenol might assist in weight management and heart disease. 

Sources

  1. Wiley Nutrition Bulletin. (2017) The role of polyphenols in modern nutrition. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5601283/
  2. Frontiers in Nutrition. (2018) The Role of Polyphenols in Human Health and Food Systems: A Mini-Review. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6160559/
  3. Journal of Nutrients. (2017) A Critical Review on Polyphenols and Heath Benefits of Black Soybeans. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452185/
  4. Healthline. (2018) 11 Health and Nutrition Benefits of Cocoa Powder. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cocoa-powder-nutrition-benefits
  5. Medical News Today. (2018) Everything you need to know about black beans. [online] Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/289934#:~:text=4)%20Warding%20off%20heart%20disease,the%20risk%20of%20heart%20disease.
  6. Nutrition & Diabetes. (2017) Flavonoid intake is inversely associated with obesity and C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in US adults. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518804/
  7. The Journal of Nutrition. (2011) Flavonoid-Rich Cocoa Consumption Affects Multiple Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Meta-Analysis of Short-Term Studies. [online] Available at: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/141/11/1982.long
  8. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. (2019) Molecular Mechanisms and Bioavailability of Polyphenols in Prostate Cancer. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6429226/#:~:text=Some%20metabolites%20of%20polyphenols%20play,receptors%2C%20suppression%20of%20androgen%20receptor

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