Polyphenol foods are super foods we can benefit from when we consume them on daily basis. Polyphenols are a group of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. Poly means multiple, and phenols are specific chemical structures that contain a a hydroxyl (-OH) group attached to an aromatic ring. Polyphenols are compounds that contain multiple phenol units that provide benefits both to plants and humans.
Polyphenols serve several functions in plants, including protection against UV radiation, pathogens, and oxidative stress. When we eat foods rich in polyphenols, we experience their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits.
Due to their their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, incorporating polyphenol foods in the diet can help:
- Reduce inflammation that contributes to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- Protect the body against oxidative stress that damages our cells and DNA, contributing to aging and disease.
- Reduce inflammation in the gut, preventing and reducing inflammatory gut conditions like Crohn’s disease and colitis.
- Improve gut health by increasing the diversity and richness of the microbiome and supporting a health gut barrier.
- Reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and the risk of heart disease.
- Reduce inflammation and oxidative damage in the brain, thus improving cognitive function.
Best Polyphenol Foods
There are thousands of different polyphenolic compounds identified in plants. They can be classified into various subclasses based on their chemical structure, such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes, and lignans. Each subclass has unique properties and potential health benefits. Incorporating a variety of polyphenol foods will provide a wide range of these beneficial compounds.
- All kinds of berries, such as blueberry, raspberry, cranberry, strawberry, and blackberry.
- Red fruit, such as red grapes, red apples, cherry, and pomegranate. Red wine gets a good rep due to the polyphenols found in red grapes.
- Extra-virgin olive oil.
- Green and black tea.
- Vegetables, especially artichoke, spinach, red onion, and broccoli.
- Spices and herbs: especially clove, cinnamon, star anise, ginger, cumin, turmeric, basil, rosemary, sage, others
- Nuts and seeds, especially hazelnut, walnut, almonds, pistachio, pecan pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seed, flaxseed
- Dark chocolate. The darker, the better!
- Legumes such as black beans, lentils, and chickpeas contain high levels of polyphenols.
- Whole grains: such as oats and quinoa are good sources of polyphenols.
Polyphenol Foods Handling and Storage
Exposure to heat, air, and light can reduce the level of polyphenols in foods and their potency. Here are some suggestions for cooking, processing, and storage:
- Eat polyphenols foods raw when possible
- Eat polyphenols foods as soon as you cut them. For example, if you cut an apple, eat it right away
- Store in a dark cool place away from the sun or heat. For example, store olive oil and spices away from the oven where the temperatures can get hot
- Avoid adding processed oils, sugars, and other ingredients that counter their benefits
Polyphenol supplements contain concentrated amounts of polyphenol compounds extracted from various plant sources. These supplements are intended to provide higher doses of polyphenols than what may be obtained from a regular diet. Some products may contain a single ingredients while others contain a combination of polyphenols.
Some common polyphenols found in supplements include resveratrol (from red grapes), quercetin (from apples and others), curcumin (from turmeric), catechins (from tea, chocolate and others), and anthocyanins (from berries and others).
It’s important to note that while polyphenol supplements can provide concentrated doses of these compounds, they don’t replace a healthy diet rich in foods that are natural sources of polyphenols. Whole foods contain a complex mixture of nutrients and phytochemicals, including polyphenols, which work synergistically to support health.
Polyphenol Foods and Supplements for Gut Health
Polyphenols can have a significant impact on the gut and gut health. Here are some ways in which polyphenols can affect the gut:
- Gut microbiota modulation: Polyphenols can act as prebiotics, providing nourishment to beneficial gut bacteria. Certain polyphenols, such as those found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria like Akkermansia muciniphilia, Bifidobacteria, and Lactobacilli, while inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. This modulation of the gut microbiota can contribute to improved gut health and overall well-being.
- Anti-inflammatory effects: Polyphenols possess anti-inflammatory properties, and by reducing inflammation, they can help alleviate gut inflammation and associated conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They can inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules and modulate signaling pathways related to inflammation in the gut.
- Gut barrier function: Polyphenols can help strengthen the gut barrier function, which is essential for maintaining a healthy gut. They can enhance the integrity of the intestinal epithelial cells and the tight junctions between them, preventing the passage of harmful substances and toxins into the bloodstream.
- Antioxidant activity: Polyphenols exhibit potent antioxidant activity, which can help protect the gut cells from oxidative stress and damage. This antioxidant effect can contribute to the overall health of the gut.
- Modulation of gut motility: Some polyphenols have been shown to influence gut motility, aiding in the regulation of bowel movements and preventing constipation.
- Protection against gut pathogens: Certain polyphenols have antimicrobial properties, which can help combat harmful gut pathogens and maintain a healthy microbial balance in the gut.
When I work with my clients, we aim to incorporate as many polyphenol foods as possible. Unfortunately, some of these foods are restricted on several elimination diets like the low FODMAPs, low acid, or low histamine diet. You must identify the root causes of conditions like IBS, acid reflux, histamine intolerance, and other digestive discomforts and eradicating so that you can expand your food options and tolerate more polyphenol foods on daily basis.
People with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and colitis tend to benefit from higher doses of polyphenols through supplements. In addition to the diagnosis, symptoms experiences, and medical history, certain markers on stool testing can help determine if supplements are needed in addition to a diet rich in polyphenols.