6 Foods High in Polyphenols

Do you love munching on greens and plant-based foods? If so, then you’re most likely already eating a fair amount of polyphenols. These compounds can be found in a wide array of plants and are important for maintaining your health (1).

Since your diet probably already includes some of these fantastic compounds, you might be curious to learn a little more about what polyphenols are and how you can benefit from eating more polyphenol-rich foods.

What Are Polyphenols?

Essentially, polyphenols can be found in a number of plants and plant-based foods. Polyphenols are loaded with antioxidants, which have been known to protect the cells of the body from damage caused by oxidation (2), experts state. There are roughly over 500 different polyphenols that can be found in the plant kingdom. Scientists break down polyphenols into distinct categories: flavonoids, stilbenes, lignans, and phenolic acids.

When it comes to your diet, the categories that matter are phenolic acids and flavonoids. Phenolic acid can be found in onions and coffee beans, among other places. Similarly, flavonoids are often found in berries, broccoli, green tea, and more. From improving gut health (3) to strengthening the cardiovascular system, there are some exciting benefits to discover in these compounds.

Benefits of Polyphenols

There are a number of benefits to adding more polyphenols and polyphenol-rich foods in your diet, according to Melissa A. Murphy, an assistant professor of nutrition and basic sciences at Bastyr University in California.

“Some important polyphenol functions include protection from free radicals, protection against microbial species, and also cellular signaling,” she says. “Some polyphenols have properties similar to carotenoids (the pigment molecules found in red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables) and may act in similar antioxidant and cardioprotective functions.”

This means eating foods that are loaded with polyphenols might actually be able to support your cardiovascular system. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world, it is vital that people take active steps toward improving their heart health. Polyphenols have a very positive impact on the heart, with studies suggesting these compounds play a meaningful role in reducing heart disease (4).

6 Foods High in Polyphenols

1. Dark Chocolate

Chocolate lovers rejoice! One of the top foods to eat when you want a healthy dose of polyphenols is dark chocolate (5). Specifically, you want to consume cocoa powder. According to experts, cocoa powder contains a number of different polyphenolic compounds, including phenolic acids and flavonoids. The research behind dark chocolate and cocoa powder also suggests that consuming it regularly can help to lower the risk of certain cardiovascular complications (6). Of course, you also want to make sure you watch your sugar intake. Since many chocolate-based products cut the cocoa with sugar to improve taste, be aware of the sugar content before you decide to snack on a chocolate bar for your health. The best solution is to mix a scoop of pure cocoa powder in with your morning smoothie to really take in the benefits.

2. Cloves

Though cocoa powder has the most polyphenols by volume, cloves are thought to be the plants with the highest count of polyphenols overall (7). Research points out that the polyphenolic compounds found in cloves may help to alleviate inflammation. The trick with cloves is finding a way to ingest them regularly. The unique, warm taste of clove can make it a perfect fit for desserts, so try incorporating the spice into your confections to start reaping the benefits.

3. Green Tea

Most people have heard that regularly drinking green tea is a great choice for improving overall feelings of wellness (8). Adding to the list of benefits, green tea is also an excellent source of polyphenols. The compounds in green tea are said to be some of the strongest available, specifically in regard to catechins. These antioxidants work to prevent and reduce the cellular damage oxidative stress can do to the body (9). Beyond this, research suggests that green tea can help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower bad cholesterol levels, and improve brain function (10).

4. Black Elderberries

Elderberries have a long history of being used for medicinal purposes throughout history. In fact, there’s some evidence suggesting that the use of elderberries dates back to Ancient Greece (11). No matter where the practice started, modern researchers agree that black elderberries are absolutely brimming with healthful compounds including polyphenols. Research has suggested that elderberries and elderberry extract can be a good way to boost immune system functions and fight off the symptoms of colds and flus. In addition to this, the polyphenolic compounds in elderberry may help improve heart health due to their antioxidant properties (12).

5. Nuts

Plenty of nuts contain healthy doses of polyphenols. While you can find these compounds in peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, and more, you’re likely to experience the best benefits from focusing on walnuts. Some research suggests that you only need to consume roughly seven walnuts per day to reap the full polyphenolic benefits of walnuts (13). Like most foods rich in polyphenols, walnuts are said to contain antioxidants that help repair damage caused by oxidative stress, which can lead to improved cardiovascular function (14).

6. Red Wine

Red wine has a lot going for it. People love drinking it for a multitude of reasons, but there’s a ton of evidence to suggest moderately drinking red wine can improve overall cardiovascular health (15). The main reason for this comes down to the grapes red wine is made from. The skins of grapes are loaded with polyphenols and stay intact as the grapes ferment into wine. The polyphenols found in red wine include resveratrol, quercetin, and a number of other health-boosting compounds. So if you’re looking for an excuse to drink that glass of red wine after work, consider it a favor to your heart!

Polyphenol Supplements

Polyphenols are commonplace and most people ingest them on a regular basis. Due to this, there are not many health risks associated with consuming polyphenol-rich foods. Still, health experts advise caution with polyphenol supplements. Some findings suggest that taking polyphenol supplements could inhibit iron absorption in some individuals. Additional studies have suggested polyphenol supplements could interact with certain thyroid medications. In order to get the most out of these compounds, it is best to consult with your primary health care provider before taking any supplements to learn whether you’ll experience negative reactions (16).

Everyone can benefit from adding more plants and plant-based foods to their diet. Start adding more dark chocolate, nuts, and green tea to your diet and see the difference it can make!

Have a favorite food that’s rich in polyphenols that we didn’t cover here? Share your thoughts in our comment section!

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