Polyphenols - Eating more plants may help us to live a longer, healthier life
When we look at the areas in the world that people tend to have the lowest incidence of disease and tend to live longer such as the blue zones and those that follow a Mediterranean style diet, a common factor is the amount and diversity of plant foods that are eaten. Eating a diet high in plant based foods that are rich in antioxidant compounds called Polyphenols may significantly contribute to our general health and longevity.
Polyphenols are a type of phytochemical (plant chemical) that occur naturally in plants. There are over 500 unique polyphenols.
Polyphenols can be further categorized into the following groups:
• Phenolic acids
Flavonoids are a diverse group of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in almost all fruits and vegetables. Flavinoids are a form of polyphenols known for their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in the body.Along with carotenoids and anthrocyanins they are responsible for the bright colours in fruits and vegetables.
Flavonoids are the largest group of phytonutrients, with more than 6,000 types. One of the best-known flavonoids include quercetin, known for its anti inflammatory benefits.
There are several significant groups of flavonoids, including anthocyanidins, flavanols, flavones, flavonols, flavonones and isoflavones.
Flavones: Flavones are associated with overall antioxidant benefits and delaying the metabolizing of drugs. Good sources of flavones are celery, parsley, various herbs and hot peppers.
Anthocyanidins: Anthocyanidins are associated with heart health, longevity, antioxidant effects and even may assist with preventing obesity and diabetes. Good sources of anthocyanidins include red, purple, blue and black berries, pomegranates, plums, beetroot, and purple grapes.
Flavonones: Flavones are associated with overall antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity within the body, good sources include citrus, parsley and rosemary.
Isoflavones: Isoflavones are a form of phytoestrogen, meaning that they mimic or have a mild oestrogen like activity in the body. Isoflavones may be beneficial in lowering the risk of oestrogen related cancers, such as breast, endometrial and prostate cancers, and relieving menopausal symptoms. Good food sources include soy products and legumes.
Lignans: are a type of polyphenol found in high amounts in extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed, and whole grains such as rye, barley and oats. Lignans have both plant oestrogen and antioxidant qualities and may help lower inflammation within the body.
Eating a diet high in all forms of polyphenols may be beneficial to our health in many ways. Nearly all fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols and choosing polyphenol rich foods may help protect our cells from disease and damage.
Possible benefits of a Polyphenol Rich diet include
Reduced risk of inflammatory related disease such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and hormonal imbalance. Polyphenols may help to protect the cells in the body from the free radical damage that occurs from a poor lifestyle, stress, medications and glycation.
Polyphenols may help with a healthy gut microbiome by promoting the growth of healthy gut flora. There is some evidence to show that a high polyphenol intake can positively modulate the intestinal microbiome enabling more of the eubiotic bacteria that produce short chain fatty acids (which are important in maintaining a healthy gut). Gut microbiota and dietary polyphenols have a symbiotic relationship: the microbiota enzymatically transforms polyphenols to improve bioavailability, while polyphenols modulate microbial composition by enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibiting the growth of pathogens, thus exhibiting the prebiotic-like effect. In turn this may help with the health of the gut and may benefit those with gut related disorders and diseases.
Polyphenols may help to protect the cells from damage by helping to protect telomeres. Telomeres are the caps at the end of the chromosomes that protect the DNA. Telomeres are particularly susceptible to oxidation and so eating a diet rich in polyphenols may assist with slowing the rate of telomere degradation.
Polyphenols may benefit brain function, cardiovascular health and circulation by providing blood vessel support and lowered risk of oxidations of fats in the cellular membranes.
Polyphenols may boost insulin sensitivity, as well as slow down the rate the body digests and absorbs sugar.
Higher flavonoid intake may be associated with a lower BMI and waist circumference.
Polyphenols may impact genes and gene expression. A person's specific genes can also affect how their body responds to certain types of polyphenols.
Polyphenols may assist with healthy glowing skin. Particularly important for those wanting to delay the signs of premature aging, or those wanting to prevent pigmentation, acne, rosacea and inflammatory type skin conditions.
Plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits tend to be high in polyphenols.
The number of polyphenols in a food can vary depending on where the food is grown, how it is farmed and transported and how it is cooked or prepared. High heat and prolonged cooking may damage or destroy the polyphenol content of food.
Some major sources of polyphenols -
Tea including black tea, green and white tea
Red, blue and black fruits such as berries, red grapes and cherries
Apples, citrus fruits
Purple and red vegetables such as beetroot, eggplant
Wholegrains – oats, barley, rye
Soy, flaxseeds and legumes
Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, celery seeds, basil, marjoram and oregano
Nuts and seeds