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Polyphenols: What Are They and Why Do You Want Them?

Whether you know it or not, you may have heard of polyphenols (and may have even put in efforts to get more into your diet!) without even realizing it! Have you ever heard someone say they are drinking red wine for the health benefits? Or started drinking green tea because you’ve heard good things about it? Well those benefits and those “good things” people are talking about are polyphenols!

So, What Exactly Are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are micronutrients that are found in plant-based foods that are chock full of health-promoting antioxidants. So, they essentially protect you from those nasty free radicals that want to do all sorts of damage to your cells and ultimate up your chances of developing certain diseases. So, antioxidants (and ultimately polyphenols) help you slow down the aging process while also decreasing your disease risk—double whammy!

There are Different Types of Polyphenols. Here are the most abundant:

1) Flavanoids

These account for 60% of all polyphenols and are found in almost every plant-based food. But their concentration is highest in tea, citrus fruits, onions, apples, red cabbage, soy, and dark chocolate. Flavanoids are first and foremost a major antioxidant but they are also anti-inflammatory agents, which means they block certain substances in the body that cause inflammation. This also helps contribute to lowering your disease risk!

2) Phenolic Acids

Phenolic Acids account for about 30% of all polyphenols and they also work as antioxidants in the body. Additionally, phenolic acids are readily absorbed through the intestinal tracts making them very accessible through food. The best food sources of phenolic acids include coffee, berries, red wine, cereal grains, olives, and flaxseeds.

3) Stillbenes

Stillbenes are not nearly as abundant in plant-foods as flavonoid and phenolic acids, but they are definitely worth finding and adding to your diet! They are highly sought after for their potential benefits in lowering cardiovascular disease risk as well as prevention of cancer and cognitive decline. The best food sources are grapes, red wine, blueberries, and peanuts.

4) Lignans

Like the other polyphenols, lignans have great antioxidant power. But they have also been shown to help balance hormones, improve cholesterol levels and aid with digestion. You can find lignans in seeds (especially flax seeds), legumes, and whole grains.

What’s So Great About Polyphenols?

Well, as I mentioned, polyphenols are antioxidants and most are also anti-inflammatory, so they are incredibly effective at stopping anything that is a result of free radical damage or inflammation. As a result, they have a hefty list of health benefits including lowered heart disease risk, promoting healthy digestion, reducing diabetes risk, and promoting healthy brain function. But I’m going to highlight 3 of the top polyphenol health benefits:

1) Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Polyphenols work overtime when it comes to helping blood sugar! They can help lower blood sugar spikes after meals by preventing the breakdown of starches into simple sugars. They also help stimulate insulin secretion to keep blood sugar levels stable. The best polyphenols for this benefit are anthocyanins which are found in most red, purple, and blue foods.

2) Prevention of Blood Clots

Clotting occurs in our blood when platelets join together to prevent excess bleeding. But this can sometimes be problematic if clots form and then travel to other parts of your body. Polyphenols can help improve the function of blood vessel and ultimately slow down the development of these blood clots. Resveratrol (red grapes, blueberries, peanuts, dark chocolate) is most effective for this benefit.

3) Cancer Protection

Polyphenols have also been shown to block the development of various types of cancer cells. In addition, higher polyphenol intake has been associated with lower risk of both breast cancer and prostate cancer. Best food sources include red and orange fruits and veggies, apples onions, soy foods, cruciferous vegetables, and green tea.

What About Supplements?

Over-the-counter supplements are available for polyphenols but they are considered to be way less beneficial than consuming polyphenols in food (as is the case with most nutrients!). Polyphenols tend to work best when they interact with other nutrients that they are often combined with in whole foods and this interaction is almost impossible to replicate in supplement form.

So, polyphenols are magic for keeping us young and healthy and they couldn’t possibly be more accessible! They are in every fruit, vegetable, whole grain, spice, and tea. So start loading up to take care of your body and keep yourself forever young!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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