Whether you consider yourself a wellness junkie, you’re looking for the latest biohack, or you’re just interested in staying up-to-date on the latest information in the health and wellness space, you have to know about polyphenols. These plant compounds are nothing new, but not everyone knows about their benefits. Powerful and potent, polyphenols may be a real game-changer for your health. We’ll show you why right here.
What are Polyphenols?
Naturally occurring and packed with antioxidants, polyphenols are plant compounds that contain one or more phenolic hydroxyl group. If that sounds extremely scientific, that’s because it is. Just stick with us, however, and we’ll break it down into more digestible terms.
A polyphenol is a type of micronutrient with certain properties that help stave off free radicals and prevent cell damage. The benefits they stand to offer may also help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Types of Polyphenols
There are four main types of polyphenols. These include:
- Flavonoids. These account for 60% of polyphenols. There are five types of flavonoids: anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavones, flavanones, and flavonols.
- Phenolic acids. This type of polyphenol comprises about 30% of all polyphenols. The main groups are chlorogenic acid and hydroxycinnamic acid (ferulic acid).
- Polyphenolic amides, which includes capsaicinoids and avenanthramides.
- Other polyphenols. Resveratrol, curcumin, ellagic acid, and many other nutrients make up the remaining category of polyphenols.
The types of polyphenols can be found in varying food sources, each of which deliver a unique set of benefits.
Health Benefits of Polyphenols
Now onto the “why” of the matter: why should we care about polyphenols? Despite being micro in nature, these plant compounds offer some pretty impressive health benefits. Understanding polyphenol benefits makes it easy to see why people have been incorporating polyphenol-rich foods and supplements into their diets and lifestyles for years.
Helps Regulate Blood Sugar
Regulating your blood sugar levels is critical for overall health. Stable blood sugar reduces the risk of a host of negative health effects, including diabetes symptoms, nerve damage, vision loss, and prolonged wound healing. HIgh blood sugar levels have also been associated with frequent urination, fatigue, and weight changes. Consuming polyphenols may help stimulate insulin secretion and lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
May Promote Heart Health
The large concentration of antioxidants in polyphenols supports normal heart health and function. Neutralizing free radicals helps fight oxidative stress, which lowers inflammation and reduces the risk of heart disease. Cardiovascular health may also benefit from the lowered blood pressure, lowered LDL (bad cholesterol), increased HDL (good cholesterol), and prevention of blood clots.
As mentioned earlier, chronic inflammation is a sign that the body is in distress. Prolonged chronic inflammation may increase the risk of developing serious health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, forms of cancer, and autoimmune disorders. Research supports the connection between an increased concentration of polyphenol lignans and a decrease in inflammatory markers.
May Lower Risk of Cancer
There may be reason to believe that incorporating polyphenols into your diet and lifestyle could inhibit your risk of developing certain forms of cancer. These include colon cancer, prostate cancer, epithelial cancer, endometrial cancer, and breast cancer. The connection between polyphenols and cancer comes from the high concentration of antioxidants, which helps prevent cell damage. Some theorize that this may mitigate the likelihood of cell mutation. It is important to note that the research is still very preliminary in this area.
Could Benefit Brain Function
Certain research suggests that the polyphenol curcumin could help protect against some neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Additionally, other studies have linked green tea consumption to improved cognitive function when compared to drinking coffee or black tea. The thinking is that these connections stem from the polyphenols’ antioxidants and the improved blood flow to the brain that ensues as a result.
Promotes Healthy Digestion
A major benefit of polyphenols is the way it may promote digestive health. A healthy GI tract is the key to improved digestion. By promoting the growth of good gut bacteria (bifidobacteria) and limiting the growth of bad gut bacteria (C. difficile, E.Coli, Salmonella, etc.), polyphenols support a more balanced microbiome.
Best Sources of Polyphenols
Now that you know how beneficial polyphenols can be, the next question is how to get them. Polyphenols are naturally found in a variety of plant-based food sources as well as in dietary supplements. Everyone loves hearing that dark chocolate, red wine, and coffee are rich in polyphenols, and while that is true, there are tons of other foods that contain these plant compounds.
Which Foods are High in Polyphenols?
There’s never been a better reason to eat your fruits and vegetables! While you’re at it, throw some nuts, seeds, and even a few spices into the mix.
Blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and blackberries top the list of polyphenol-rich fruits. Aside from berries, apples, grapes, apricots, plums, peaches, pomegranate, and even lemons, grapefruit, and oranges deliver a healthy dose of polyphenols. As it turns out, nature’s candy really delivers!
Polyphenol-rich vegetables include broccoli, carrots, spinach, red lettuce, red chicory, potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, asparagus, and artichokes.
Beans offer some of the best sources of polyphenols, namely white and black beans. Soybeans, tofu, and tempeh also deliver vital polyphenol benefits, which is good news for vegans and vegetarians looking for plant-based protein sources.
Nuts and seeds
Almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, flax seeds, pecans, walnuts, and chia seeds are fantastic ways to get in your daily dose of polyphenols with a little flavor and crunch.
Oats, rye, and whole wheat are all high in polyphenols.
Herbs and spices
Certain herbs and spices are known for containing high levels of polyphenols. These include turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, celery seed, basic, ginger, parsley, peppermint, oregano, lemon verbena, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Polyphenols may be found in some of your favorite foods and beverages like coffee, cocoa powder, red wine, vinegar, black tea, green tea, and of course, dark chocolate.
What About Polyphenol Supplements?
While some of the best sources of polyphenols come from food, supplements can also offer health benefits.
Polyphenols Supplements: Pros and Cons
Studies support the claim that some plant-derived polyphenol supplements may help counteract the negative effects of oxidative stress and could accelerate muscle recovery and performance in athletes. This is good news for individuals who find it difficult to consume adequate polyphenols from food sources alone. Moderate polyphenol supplementation is generally understood to be safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its potential risks and side effects.
Depending on the supplement manufacturer, polyphenol supplements may contain higher doses of the compound than what is naturally found within foods. Supplements sometimes also contain fillers and other ingredients that could impact the main nutrient’s effectiveness. Additionally, certain polyphenol supplements may interfere with nutrient absorption and the bioavailability of certain medications. Some find that supplementing with polyphenols reduces the body’s ability to adequately absorb iron, thiamine, and folate.
It is always best to consult with a healthcare professional prior to starting any supplementation program.
How to Incorporate Polyphenols Into Your Diet & Lifestyle
Eating a diet rich in polyphenols seems simple enough; after all, just include a few servings of blueberries and drink your coffee, right? Not quite. Increasing your intake of polyphenol-rich foods isn’t intuitive or easy for everyone. Understanding how to pair foods for maximum nutrient absorption, energy, and satiety is key. Learning about different meal ideas and recipes could help kickstart your journey towards a more nutrient dense way of living.
Fully Stacked Oatmeal
Oatmeal with flaxseeds, berries, and nut butters really pack in all the polyphenols you could want. To make this recipe, any type of oats will do, so whether you prefer steel-cut oats or rolled oats, you’ll still be getting the necessary nutrients. Make your oatmeal as you normally would, either with water or milk. Top it with 1-2 tbsp flax seeds and a handful of berries. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are all great options. Can’t decide which ones to choose? Use them all! Lastly, mix in 1 tbsp almond butter. You’ll have yourself a nutritious, delicious, polyphenol-rich breakfast in no time.
Jam on (Rye Bread) Toast
If a simple breakfast is more your jam (pun intended), try popping two slices of rye bread in the toaster. Toast them lightly. Once cooled, spread a little raspberry or blueberry jam on top. Consider adding fresh berries on the side for extra polyphenols.
The Mean, Green, Free-Radical-Fighting Machine
This loaded salad has everything you need to fight off that midday slump. Power up with a slew of nutrients and you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way. Start with a base of spinach or red lettuce. Then add in steamed broccoli, carrots, chia seeds, and black beans. Toss in a handful of chopped walnuts and slivered almonds. Finish it off with a red wine vinegar-based vinaigrette.
Plant-Based Bean Burrito
Whether it’s Taco Tuesday or just another Friday lunch, dipping into this bean- burrito is something you can feel good about. It all starts with the tortilla. To get the maximum polyphenol benefits, use a whole wheat flour tortilla. Then add in the main ingredients. Black beans are a staple and should definitely be included, but don’t feel like you have to stop there. Consider adding in plant-based protein sources like seasoned tofu as well. Last but certainly not least, it’s time for the toppings. Go crazy and add in everything under the sun. We suggest red onions, shredded red lettuce, shredded carrots, and plant-based sour cream (made from a soy base).
DIY Stir Fry
One of the best things about a stir fry is that you can put just about anything in it as long as you have the right spices. Use this stir fry recipe as a guide but feel free to get experimental with whatever vegetables you have in your kitchen. Start by coating your frying pan or wok with olive oil. Then add in your protein source. We suggest tofu or tempeh. Next, pop in the veggies. Broccoli, carrots, shallots, and asparagus all make great additions. Now it’s time to go to flavor town. Herbs like basil and oregano are favorites, as are spices like cumin. Shred a bit of ginger and throw that in for a nice kick. Squeeze ½ a lemon on top for a little citrusy zest and you’ll be good to!
Homemade Vegetarian Chili
Nothing warms you up on a cold winter day quite like a hot bowl of chili. The great thing about this recipe is that you can get all the benefits of polyphenols at the same time. All you need are olive oil, tomatoes, black beans, onion, garlic, and a few spices. Saute the onion, garlic, and jalapeno (optional) in a large pot. Add in chili powder and cook for 1 minute before you add in the beans, tomatoes, and vegetable broth or water. From there, the options are endless. Use cumin for extra flavoring and perhaps a bit of curry powder. Top with green onions and plant-based sour cream and voila! You’ve got yourself a polyphenol-rich dinner ready to be devoured.
Snack & Beverage Ideas
Go nuts for nuts with this trail mix recipe. Mix together pecans, walnuts, almonds, and even some hazelnuts. Add in dried blueberries, cranberries, raisins, and dates. Dried fruit actually contains even more polyphenols than fresh fruit, which makes it a welcome addition to any trail mix.
If you’re looking to reap the benefits of polyphenols, the best way to make hot cocoa is by using raw cacao powder. Look for products that list flavonols in the ingredient list.
Coffee with Tinc
Make your cup of coffee as you normally would and add one serving of Tinc Brain Boost. It’s as simple as that!
Glass of Red Wine (ages 21+)
This one is pretty straightforward. Enjoy responsibly and in moderation.