What Are Polyphenols?

CoachMel Healthy Eating 0 Comments

With so many “natural” branded foods on the shelves these days, it can be somewhat difficult to weed out the decent foods from the junk posing as healthy food.

But, I have some good news to that end. Some of the very best foods for you do not need to be branded as “natural,” and the things that make these foods aesthetically pleasing (in this case, giving them their color) also make them good for you.

The “things” in question are polyphenols, which are found in all fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seeds (this includes chocolate).

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What Are Polyphenols?

1. Polyphenols Prevent Degenerative Diseases
Polyphenols are antioxidants. This means they assist in addressing and reversing the problems caused by oxidative stress to the walls of arteries (the problems themselves which are caused by activities like overeating), create a heart-healthy environment by curbing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (which stops the potential for atherosclerosis), and they help relieve chronic pain, as seen in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

It’s thought there are about 8,000 polyphenols. However, not all of them have these particular properties. This is why your source of polyphenols is important.

2. The Source Of Polyphenols Is Important
It should be noted that scientific understanding of the effects of polyphenols on the human body is in its infancy.

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This is mostly due to the difficulty in isolating particular polyphenols for use in controlled trials. But, new evidence for the efficacy of polyphenols in healthy living is being found all the time.

The only question, then, is what are the “best” polyphenols and their highest aggregate sources?

As for the best, many are known to have explicit health benefits. You may have seen news reports on resveratrol, a polyphenol in dark fruits and wine, which seems to have the ability to mimic the effects of caloric restriction, slowing aging and negative cardiovascular events.

Then, there’s the polyphenol quercetin from green tea and citrus fruits, which is known to alleviate allergies and asthma.

So, where can you find these polyphenols? Well, a list has been put together, called the ORAC value list. This is a guideline to gauge the level of antioxidants in a food.

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As you can see by clicking the link, unsweetened cocoa is high on the list. Also high on the list are dark berries like blueberries, and beans like the pinto bean.

Again, the ORAC list is a guideline, as the bioavailibility (big science-y word for amount of nutrient absorbed) of polyphenols is thought to be much less than the amount in a food, due to processes like digestion.

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There is also evidence that the body rejects polyphenols, specifically a sub-branch called flavonoids, which may mean polyphenols act as a catalyst rather than the cause for the aforementioned health benefits. Regardless, polyphenols do garner these beneficial effects.

Also, fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of polyphenols and nutrients.

3. Beware: Polyphenols Can Be Used As Commercial Selling-Points
I have mentioned that chocolate is high in polyphenols (catechins, to be precise), so you may see a sugared chocolate bar on the shelf claiming to have health benefits from those polyphenols.

However, not only is the cocoa content of most commercial chocolate bars under 30%, but the processing of commercial chocolate degrades polyphenol content, and the sugar contained within your garden variety bar surely negates the good any remaining polyphenols can do.

The point I’m making is that you shouldn’t trust packaged foods to deliver the vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols you need. Instead, you should reach for those food items that have the least human tampering, for the very best in all of those goodies.

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While this post is just a tip of the hat to the complexities of the polyphenol world, I hope it has a place in your decision to get out there and buy some fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as teas.

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Polyphenols have many health improving abilities, as stated above, and although it has been mentioned that polyphenols are weakened by the digestive system, studies have found them in urine and stool samples.

Since we know that polyphenols reduce oxidant stress, and thus make the body feel less of the effect from higher-calorie meals, I think it’s safe to say eating a larger amount of fruits, vegetables, and polyphenol-rich legumes to make up for any degradation is just fine. In fact, the more, the merrier!

What will you start doing today to make sure you are getting enough polyphenols into your body?

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