The Power of Polyphenols: Top Polyphenol-Rich Foods and Supplements

Polyphenols, the natural compounds found abundantly in certain plant foods and supplements, are recognized for their substantial health benefits. Their relevance in our diet extends beyond mere nutrition, as they significantly combat diseases and promote overall wellness.

This article will delve into the power of these potent bioactive compounds, providing a comprehensive guide on top polyphenol-rich foods and supplements. We’ll explore their numerous health benefits of polyphenols, from boosting your immune system to slowing down aging, and how to incorporate them into your dietary regimen for optimal health.

What Are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are natural compounds in plant-based foods, renowned for their health-boosting properties. They function primarily as antioxidants, protecting our bodies against damage from harmful free radicals and reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.

The importance of polyphenols lies in their broad spectrum of possible health benefits – from anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties to their role in cardiovascular and brain health. Their impact on our well-being is substantial, making them a vital part of a balanced diet.

Polyphenols can be divided into several categories, each with unique sources and benefits:

  • Flavonoids, the most plentiful and diverse polyphenols, include subcategories like flavonols, flavones, flavanones, isoflavones, flavanols (catechins), and anthocyanins. These are commonly found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, and chocolate, crucial in preventing chronic diseases.
  • Phenolic Acids are categorized into two main types: hydroxybenzoic acids and hydroxycinnamic acids. They’re often found in fruits, whole grains, and seeds, contributing to various health benefits, including anti-aging and immune support.
  • Polyphenolic Amides include compounds like avenanthramides in oats and capsaicinoids in chili peppers. These compounds have been linked to various health benefits, including reducing inflammation and improving heart health.
  • Other Polyphenols, such as lignans found in seeds, grains, and vegetables, and stilbenes like resveratrol in red wine. This category comprises structures that don’t fit neatly into the other classes but still offer noteworthy health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

In essence, polyphenols are powerhouse compounds, and incorporating various polyphenol-rich foods into your diet can significantly improve your overall health.

Can polyphenols improve my health?

These powerful plant compounds enhance health, and are backed by numerous studies, with benefits spanning various aspects of wellness. For cardiovascular health, polyphenols play a pivotal role in managing blood pressure levels, enhancing the flexibility of blood vessels, and preventing blood clots. This contributes to a lower risk of heart disease and improved heart health overall.

The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin, catechins, and silymarin supplements are well-established, helping with simple inflammation to complex conditions like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. [1] Polyphenols, especially in foods like mango and pomegranate, can modify gut microbiota and stimulate short-chain fatty acids to diminish inflammation. [2]

Polyphenols safeguard cells from free radical damage. The OLIVAUS study showed that consuming polyphenol-rich extra virgin olive oil can boost the antioxidant status in adults. [3] Certain polyphenols, like those in green tea and apples, can prevent cancer metastasis and plaque formation in blood vessels. [4]

Polyphenols significantly influence digestion and metabolism, potentially reducing abdominal fat. One study showed that a polyphenol-rich diet, including tea and duckweed, led to a 14.1% reduction in belly fat.[5] Also, polyphenols in tea have been found to boost weight loss and enhance energy metabolism by altering gut bacteria in mice. [6]

Polyphenols benefit brain health, potentially protecting neurons and improving memory in older adults. [7] Research also indicates they can enhance exercise recovery and performance [8] in athletes and prevent leaky gut syndrome. [9]

How many polyphenols do I need in a day?

Though there’s no fixed daily polyphenol intake, studies recommend 300 to 1,000 milligrams for health benefits and around 1-2 grams for chronic disease prevention. Polyphenols, found in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tea, and wine, vary with diet. Despite their benefits, only 1 in 10 adults consume the suggested daily intake of polyphenol-rich fruits and vegetables.

Which foods are high in polyphenols?

Polyphenols are abundant in a variety of foods:

Fruits

Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and elderberries, along with plums, cherries, apples, and grapes, are rich in polyphenols.

Vegetables

Many leafy greens and other vegetables boast significant polyphenols. Some examples include carrots, spinach, broccoli, red lettuce, onions, asparagus, artichokes, and shallots.

Beverages

Tea and coffee, especially green tea, are rich in beneficial polyphenols.

Whole Grains & Nuts

Flaxseeds, hazelnuts, and especially cloves are excellent sources of polyphenols.

Olive Oil & Red Wine

Olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, contains beneficial polyphenols. Red wine, in moderation, can also contribute to your polyphenol intake.

How do I incorporate polyphenol-rich foods into my diet?

Here are some simple ways to boost your intake of polyphenol-rich foods:

  • Snack on apples, berries, or grapes.
  • Sip green tea, black tea, or black coffee.
  • Choose oats or brown rice as a side dish.
  • Treat yourself to cocoa powder dark chocolate.
  • Cook and dress salads with extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Flavor your meals with cloves, star anise, or peppermint.
  • Add almonds, hazelnuts, or flaxseeds to your meals.

What are the best polyphenol supplements?

Polyphenol supplements offer a convenient way to boost your polyphenol intake, especially beneficial for those unable to get enough through diet alone.

Red Powders

Red powders, sourced from red berries, contain polyphenols with strong antioxidant properties that fight harmful free radicals. Their regular consumption can support heart health, enhance digestion, and may decrease chronic disease risk. Studies have shown beneficial effects on cardiovascular health indicators. [10]

Resveratrol

Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in wine, is known for its heart-protecting properties, including improved blood flow and potential insulin sensitization. It’s also been studied for other benefits, like preventing atherosclerosis and improving glycemic control in type 2 diabetes, based on in vitro and rodent studies. [11]

Curcumin/Turmeric

Curcumin, the primary component of turmeric, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is used to alleviate chronic pain and depression. It’s often paired with black pepper or lipids for better absorption. It shows potential in managing osteoarthritis, ulcerative colitis, [12] and aiding weight loss, while improving blood lipids, sugar levels, blood pressure, and liver enzymes.

Green Tea Extract

Green tea extract (GTE), rich in beneficial phytochemicals like EGCG and caffeine, can enhance body composition, though levels may differ among brands. It shows promise in managing obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, with studies indicating reductions in weight, BMI, and body fat in diabetic patients. [13]

Astragalus

The Chinese herb, Astragalus membranaceous, known for its anti-inflammatory, heart-protective, and anti-aging properties, contains compounds like polysaccharides and flavonoids. Often paired with Angelicae sinensis, it’s believed to aid heart failure, diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer. However, these claims largely stem from low-quality evidence and require validation through rigorous clinical trials. [14]

Ginger Extract

Ginger extract, a potent polyphenol, has been valued in traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda for its medicinal properties. Consuming 1-3g can significantly alleviate nausea and promote digestion. Furthermore, high doses of the powdered root (10-15g daily) could potentially boost testosterone levels, enhancing its appeal as a natural remedy. [15]

Ginkgo Biloba Extract

Ginkgo Biloba extract, a rich source of polyphenols, is widely consumed for brain health. Packed with flavonoids and terpenoids, its leaves are a dietary supplement for cognitive improvement. Notably, Ginkgo Biloba has shown the potential to enhance cognitive function in individuals with dementia and even in healthy middle-aged and older people. [16][17]

While polyphenol supplements provide health benefits like better digestion, cognitive function, and possible antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, they they may cause side effects like stomach discomfort and headaches and their effectiveness can vary. Choose a supplement considering your health needs, professional advice, and product quality. Remember, these aren’t substitutes for a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

Tips for a Polyphenol-Rich Regimen

For a polyphenol-rich diet, mix various foods and supplements as needed. Include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts in your meals. If you struggle to get enough polyphenols, consider supplements after consulting a healthcare provider.

Balance is critical to prevent nutrient imbalance, and your diet should reflect your unique needs based on age, health, and lifestyle. Embrace food diversity for a broader range of polyphenols and improved nutrition.

Conclusion

So, if you want to embark on a journey towards a healthier lifestyle, it’s simpler than you may think. Just incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and spices into your daily meals. Don’t forget to indulge in polyphenol-rich beverages like tea and black coffee. Even a square of dark chocolate or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can give your polyphenol levels a significant boost.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider consulting a healthcare provider about supplements. Remember, it’s all about balance and personalization. By making these tweaks to your diet, you’ll not only enjoy a polyphenol-rich diet but also take a giant leap towards better overall health.

REFERENCES:

[1] Yang K, Chen J, Zhang T, Yuan X, Ge A, Wang S, Xu H, Zeng L, Ge J. Efficacy and safety of dietary polyphenol supplementation in the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Immunol. 2022 Sep 9;13:949746. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.949746. PMID: 36159792; PMCID: PMC9500378.

[2] Kim, H., Minamota, Y., Markel, M., Suchodolski, J., Talcott, S., Mertens-Talcott, S. (2014) Mango and pomegranate polyphenolics in the modification of microbiota and short chain fatty acids in DSS-induced colitis (1045.6). The FASEB Journal, 28 (1 Supplement).

[3] Sarapis K, George ES, Marx W, Mayr HL, Willcox J, Esmaili T, Powell KL, Folasire OS, Lohning AE, Garg M, Thomas CJ, Itsiopoulos C, Moschonis G. Extra virgin olive oil high in polyphenols improves antioxidant status in adults: a double-blind, randomized, controlled, cross-over study (OLIVAUS). Eur J Nutr. 2022 Mar;61(2):1073-1086. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02712-y. Epub 2021 Oct 30. PMID: 34716791.

[4] Norwich BioScience Institutes. (2015, April 13). New evidence for how green tea, apples could protect health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 5, 2023 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150413095210.htm

[5] Zelicha, H., Kloting, N., Kaplan, A. et al. The effect of high-polyphenol Mediterranean diet on visceral adiposity: the DIRECT PLUS randomized controlled trial. BMC Med 20, 327 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-022-02525-8

[6] Henning, S.M., Yang, J., Hsu, M. et al. Decaffeinated green and black tea polyphenols decrease weight gain and alter microbiome populations and function in diet-induced obese mice. Eur J Nutr 57, 2759–2769 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-017-1542-8

[7] de Vries K, Medawar E, Korosi A, Witte AV. The Effect of Polyphenols on Working and Episodic Memory in Non-pathological and Pathological Aging: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Nutr. 2022 Jan 26;8:720756. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.720756. PMID: 35155509; PMCID: PMC8826433.

[8] d’Unienville NMA, Blake HT, Coates AM, Hill AM, Nelson MJ, Buckley JD. Effect of food sources of nitrate, polyphenols, L-arginine and L-citrulline on endurance exercise performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Dec 29;18(1):76. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00472-y. PMID: 34965876; PMCID: PMC8715640.

[9] Peron G, Gargari G, Meroño T, Miñarro A, Lozano EV, Escuder PC, González-Domínguez R, Hidalgo-Liberona N, Del Bo’ C, Bernardi S, Kroon PA, Carrieri B, Cherubini A, Riso P, Guglielmetti S, Andrés-Lacueva C. Crosstalk among intestinal barrier, gut microbiota and serum metabolome after a polyphenol-rich diet in older subjects with “leaky gut”: The MaPLE trial. Clin Nutr. 2021 Oct;40(10):5288-5297. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2021.08.027. Epub 2021 Sep 9. PMID: 34534897.

[10] García-Cordero J, Martinez A, Blanco-Valverde C, Pino A, Puertas-Martín V, San Román R, de Pascual-Teresa S. Regular Consumption of Cocoa and Red Berries as a Strategy to Improve Cardiovascular Biomarkers via Modulation of Microbiota Metabolism in Healthy Aging Adults. Nutrients. 2023; 15(10):2299. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15102299

[11] Minakawa M, Kawano A, Miura Y, Yagasaki K. Hypoglycemic effect of resveratrol in type 2 diabetic model db/db mice and its actions in cultured L6 myotubes and RIN-5F pancreatic β-cells. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2011 May;48(3):237-44. doi: 10.3164/jcbn.10-119. Epub 2011 Apr 13. PMID: 21562645; PMCID: PMC3082080.

[12] Goulart RA, Barbalho SM, Lima VM, Souza GA, Matias JN, Araújo AC, Rubira CJ, Buchaim RL, Buchaim DV, Carvalho ACA, Guiguer ÉL. Effects of the Use of Curcumin on Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease: A Systematic Review. J Med Food. 2021 Jul;24(7):675-685. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2020.0129. Epub 2020 Nov 5. PMID: 33155879.

[13] Asbaghi O, Fouladvand F, Gonzalez MJ, Aghamohammadi V, Choghakhori R, Abbasnezhad A. Effect of Green Tea on Anthropometric Indices and Body Composition in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Complement Med Res. 2021;28(3):244-251. English. doi: 10.1159/000511665. Epub 2020 Nov 18. PMID: 33207344.

[14] Salehi B, Carneiro JNP, Rocha JE, Coutinho HDM, Morais Braga MFB, Sharifi-Rad J, Semwal P, Painuli S, Moujir LM, de Zarate Machado V, Janakiram S, Anil Kumar NV, Martorell M, Cruz-Martins N, El Beyrouthy M, Sadaka C. Astragalus species: Insights on its chemical composition toward pharmacological applications. Phytother Res. 2020 Dec 16. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6974. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33325585.

[15] Borrelli F, Capasso R, Aviello G, Pittler MH, Izzo AA. Effectiveness and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Apr;105(4):849-56. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000154890.47642.23. PMID: 15802416.

[16] Hashiguchi M, Ohta Y, Shimizu M, Maruyama J, Mochizuki M. Meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of Ginkgo biloba extract for the treatment of dementia. J Pharm Health Care Sci. 2015 Apr 10;1:14. doi: 10.1186/s40780-015-0014-7. PMID: 26819725; PMCID: PMC4729005.

[17] Kaschel R. Specific memory effects of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in middle-aged healthy volunteers. Phytomedicine. 2011 Nov 15;18(14):1202-7. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2011.06.021. Epub 2011 Jul 30. PMID: 21802920.

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.