What is the Secret of Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are a hot topic among functional food proponents due to increasing evidence that they can impact your health in positive ways. Polyphenols are antioxidant compounds derived from fruits and plants. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize unstable molecules in your body called free radicals, which can cause cell damage. A number of polyphenol supplements are currently popular with consumers. Consult your doctor before taking polyphenol supplements.

Dietary Sources

Hundreds of polyphenol compounds have been discovered in dietary sources, according to “Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.” Flavonoids and phenolic acids are the main types. Flavonoids include several different classes, including quercetin, found in onions, apples and tea; catechin, found in tea and fruit; and proanthocyanadin, found in cocoa, apples and grapes. Phenolic acids include ferulic acid, which is found in cereals, and caffeic acid, which is found in many fruits and vegetables.

Effects

Polyphenols can decrease your risk of arterial lesions, which lead to increased risk of heart disease. Polyphenols may also have anticancer effects in certain population subgroups, though the data supporting this is inconclusive. There is also some indication that polyphenols may help prevent dementia, osteoporosis and diabetes, though research results are mixed and more study is needed.

Top Foods with Polyphenols

Cloves and other seasonings:

In a 2010 study that identified the 100 foods richest in polyphenols, cloves came out on top. Cloves had a total of 15,188 mg polyphenols per 100 g of cloves. There were a number of other seasonings with high rankings, too. These included dried peppermint, which ranked second with 11,960 mg polyphenols, and star anise, which came in third with 5,460 mg.

Cocoa powder and dark chocolate:

Cocoa powder was the fourth richest polyphenol food identified, with 3,448 mg polyphenols per 100 g of the powder. It’s not a surprise that dark chocolate fell close behind on the list and was ranked eighth with 1,664 mg. Milk chocolate is also on the list, but due to its lower cocoa content, falls much further down the list at number 32.

Berries:

  • highbush blueberries, with 560 mg polyphenols
  • blackberries, with 260 mg polyphenols
  • strawberries, with 235 mg polyphenols
  • red raspberries, with 215 mg polyphenols

Fruits:

  • black currants, with 758 mg polyphenols
  • plums, with 377 mg polyphenols
  • sweet cherries, with 274 mg polyphenols
  • apples, with 136 mg polyphenols

Nuts:

  • hazelnuts, with 495 mg polyphenols
  • walnuts, with 28 mg polyphenols
  • almonds, with 187 mg polyphenols
  • pecans, with 493 mg polyphenols

Vegetables:

  • artichokes, with 260 mg polyphenols
  • chicory, with 166–235 mg polyphenols
  • red onions, with 168 mg polyphenols
  • spinach, with 119 mg polyphenols

Black and green tea:

In addition to high-fiber fruits, nuts, and vegetables, black and green teasboth contain ample amounts of polyphenols. Black tea clocks in with 102 mg polyphenols per 100 milliliters (mL), and green tea has 89 mg.

Red wine:

Many people drink a glass of red wine every night for the antioxidants. The high number of polyphenols in red wine contributes to that antioxidant count. Red wine has a total of 101 mg polyphenols per 100 mL. Rosé and white wine, while not as beneficial, still have a decent chunk of polyphenols, with 100 mL of each having about 10 mg polyphenols.

Variations

It is important to understand that not all polyphenols have identical effects. This chemical class is broad and varied, and some polyphenols are more readily absorbed and utilized by the human body than others. According to University of California professor Parris M. Kidd, technologies that bond polyphenols to molecules of phophatidylcholine help to make polyphenols more readily absorbable through the lining of your intestine, thus increasing their bioavailability. Kidd suggests that this process, called phytosome technology, is underutilized, despite proof that it improves the performance of polyphenol supplements.

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